Title: Of Shape and Hue and Home
Recipient: Pearl Took
Request: What would it be like to abandon your identity and slip into another, to become someone else? How long could you keep up the illusion? Today, show one of your characters as they assume an alias. I want Gandalf and Pippin to get switched. Or, if you feel that's a bit much to have someone handle (both changing) just Gandalf becoming Pippin.
Beta: Dreamflower (many thanks!)
Puffing contentedly on his pipe, Gandalf summoned his most agreeable smile as a direct counter to a pair of elven glares. Nonplussed, the two elves turned and walked away, their curt manner suggesting bridled anger. His smile growing, Gandalf sent a few smoke rings after them and stirred the breeze just enough to give them a parting waft of Old Toby. Until Master Elrond said otherwise, all guests were free to smoke anywhere outside the Last Homely House, a situation not to the liking of many Imladris residents. Gandalf's opinion was that many Imladris residents could do with a good ear-jerking, as the elven saying went, and he chuckled when the pair quickened their pace and hastily disappeared down the garden trail. Feeling both contrary and satisfied, Gandalf settled back on his sun-warmed bench and turned his attention to the changing autumn leaves.
Red, yellow, and orange blazed overhead as a brisk November wind knocked tree limbs about. Clustered around the base of one tree, four hobbits watched in rapt attention, and Gandalf was not too proud to admit his own fascination. He usually found a moment to sit back and appreciate a vibrant spread of fall foliage, but he appreciated it even more when the colors were in Radagast's capable hands.
To one side of the hobbits, Radagast the Brown murmured subtle words that rippled through the surrounding trees and caused all the leaves to shift to a burnished gold. After delivering Gandalf to Edoras, Gwaihir had flown to the Carrock and told Radagast of all that transpired at Orthanc. Horrified by his unwitting role in Gandalf's capture, Radagast had immediately set out for Imladris, pushing his horse hard and arriving only a few days ago. Never before had Gandalf been so grateful for his fellow wizard. Though Radagast had little to offer in the way of weapons or stratagems, his presence was a much-needed balm to the spirit. Saruman's betrayal had left grievous wounds not easily healed or discerned, and Gandalf had not realized the depth of these wounds until Radagast's warm company began to heal them.
Laughter drew Gandalf's attention away from the leaves, and his brow furrowed at the sight of all four hobbits pointing at him and clutching their sides. Suspicions rising, Gandalf turned his eyes to Radagast. Merry and Pippin had taken an immediate liking to the other wizard, and he had responded in kind by providing all manner of diversions. Now under Gandalf's accusing look, Radagast lifted one shoulder in baffled innocence, as if to say he could not fathom what the hobbits found so amusing. A shift in color pulled Gandalf's eyes downward, and he sighed. "Kindly return my beard to its original gray."
Leaning against his crooked staff, Radagast looked pointedly at Gandalf's pipe. "In return, what will you offer me?"
"The opportunity to avoid dismemberment."
"What other colors can you make his beard?" Pippin asked, his grin as wide as the Sea. Even Frodo seemed light-hearted, and Gandalf decided he could forgive Radagast his jest if it bought the Ring-bearer some peace.
"Best see to yourself, Peregrin Took," Radagast warned with a smile. "Gandalf's beard has the color from your hair. Where do you suppose the color from his beard went?"
Pippin grabbed at his head, and Gandalf watched with undisguised amusement as the hobbit's hair shimmered and paled into a wizardly gray. "You look older than the Thain!" Frodo laughed.
"Or the Gaffer," Sam added.
"And to think I said you'd never live long enough to get gray hair!" Merry exclaimed. He turned to Radagast, brimming with curiosity. "How did you do that?"
"As I mentioned at the Council, my kinsman is a master of shape and hue," Gandalf said, eyes narrow. "But even the greatest masters know when they have reached their limits."
"The only limits here are the limits of your patience," Radagast said. He pushed his sleeves back and tapped his staff on the ground. "But if you insist on being a curmudgeon, I shall restore…" He trailed off, his brow wrinkling. "Do you hear—"
The horse appeared out of nowhere.
Racing almost silently beneath the trees, hooves muffled by leaves and wind, both rider and mount were on top of the hobbits before either was aware of the other. Startled, the horse reared up, and the man on his back cried out in surprise, struggling to both keep his seat and turn the steed aside. Churning hooves stirred the leaves into an autumn whirlwind so colorful it confounded the eyes. Raising his arms to protect his face, Gandalf heard a loud thump followed by a shrill whinny. Something flew into a nearby tree, the rattling clatter giving it away as Radagast's staff. A memory rose, unbidden and unwanted. In his mind's eye, Gandalf saw his own staff roll across the stone floor of Orthanc. From deep within, he felt a tug. A pull. Something slithered over his skin, and the tug became harder. Sharper. Something was leaving him, and caught in the throes of recent memory, he struck back. Seizing whatever was being stolen, he pulled it deep into his mind and warded his thoughts against any that might follow.
The thief was relentless. Denied his prize, he battered hard against Gandalf's mind, determined to find entry. But Gandalf could be relentless, too. Wrapping himself about that which he must protect, he forced all else away. And as he did so, something…shifted.
Suddenly, there was nothing left to push. Thrown by the force of his efforts, the world toppled out from under him. He felt himself falling. A heavy weight wound about his head, and the ground rushed up to meet him. He struggled to rise, fearing an enemy had breached Elrond's defenses, but he found himself tangled in a heavy cloak.
Beyond the veiling cloth, Radagast swore loudly, an unusual but comforting sound. It meant he was angry rather than alarmed, and that meant they were in no immediate danger. Nevertheless, until Gandalf knew what had attacked him and why, he could not relax his guard.
"You might have given a warning," Radagast said sharply.
"If I had known you were here, I would have done so," came the answer. Gandalf immediately recognized the second speaker's voice, and he shook his head as he wrestled with the entangling cloak. Aragorn had done well in guiding the hobbits across Eriador, but no one would remember those deeds if he ran them down in the safety of Imladris. "Is anyone hurt?" Aragorn called.
"Just startled," Frodo said from somewhere behind Gandalf. "Sam? Merry? Pippin?"
"I'm alright, sir," Sam answered.
Gandalf attempted to speak, but his words were lost in the folds of fabric wrapped about his head.
"A little shaken but no worse for wear." That was Merry, his voice near at hand. "Pippin, will you stop fooling around under there?"
"It's a good thing you didn't come up on us like that in the Wilds, Strider," Frodo said. "The friend-and-foe speech was all well and good in Bree, but if you'd appeared so suddenly on the Road, I don't know that we'd have given you a chance to explain."
"If your horse was not so silent—" Radagast began.
"Roheryn is supposed to be silent. A poor Ranger's horse he would be if he announced his presence to all and sundry in the Wilds!"
Something was wrong. It had been niggling at Gandalf ever since the attack, but he could not determine what was amiss. Channeling his thoughts through Narya, he traced the webbing of Vilya's protective power. Yet he discerned no intruder in the valley. Imladris felt as it always did, and the song of its defenses continued unchanged. Nevertheless, something seemed…different.
"Rivendell is not the Wilds," Radagast growled. Gandalf heard him walk over and pick up his staff.
"And why are you in Rivendell and not the Wilds?" Aragorn wondered. "We sent scouts to Rhosgobel with tidings for—"
"Why should I sit idly for tidings at Rhosgobel?" There was an indignant tone to Radagast's voice. "I have been gathering all the tidings I can these past months at the Carrock. It was from Gwaihir himself that I learned of…" Radagast paused. "Gandalf?"
It was not the most impressive entrance he had ever made, but Gandalf managed to push an arm clear of the cloak. His face followed, and he inhaled deeply, relishing the fresh air. While he prepared a glare to ward off any comments about entangling himself in his own mantle, three hobbit faces appeared above him. Further away, Aragorn begin to speak, his voice low and concerned: "Gandalf? Gandalf!"
A low groan answered the Ranger.
"Out you come, Pip," Merry said, reaching down and freeing the rest of the wrap from Gandalf's neck. "How you came to be so tangled up in Gandalf's cloak, I'll never know."
"Do you remember the time he almost strangled himself in the Gaffer's scarf?" Frodo asked, unraveling the bottom of the cloak from Gandalf's feet. "I'm still trying to work out how that happened, and that was ten years ago."
The cloak slipped away. Gandalf immediately shivered, for the robes beneath the cloak also slipped away. Grabbing them before he found himself completely naked, he held them up for warmth against the cool autumn wind.
A shadow loomed above. Gandalf looked up. Radagast was much taller than he should have been.
"Pippin?" Merry was at his side, his voice concerned. "What's wrong? What's happening?"
Gandalf stared at Radagast. Radagast stared at Gandalf. Startled realization flooded both of them. Gandalf looked over at Aragorn, who knelt some distance away and blocked a prone figure from view. But Gandalf did not need to see what—or rather who—lay beyond the Ranger. As impossible as it was, he already knew.
"Sam," Gandalf said, wincing at the higher pitch of his voice, "I think I shall require hobbit clothes. Would you fetch some and take them to Elrond's study? We will meet you there."
Elrond had just taken a sip of miruvor when he felt the…shift. It was the closest he would ever come to describing the sensation. Much easier to describe was the sudden coughing fit that ensued when the shift made him choke on his drink. As both Galdor and Erestor rose from their seats in alarm, Elrond let his goblet fall and curled over his knees, desperate to dispel the cordial from his lungs.
Someone hit him hard between the shoulders, and he dimly heard voices demanding to know if he was alright. He ignored them, feeling the answer to be obvious: Of course he was not alright! Less obvious was the cause behind his choking fit, and as his coughs lessened, he concentrated on that.
Something in Imladris had changed sharply and suddenly. It was not a malicious change, insofar as Vilya could determine. But it was akin to nothing he had ever felt before, and Elrond did not like mysteries in his valley. He followed the course of the waters, both those above and below ground. He traced the border of the Bruinen and ghosted along the breeze. He touched upon the earth and the trees, listening to their harmonies, and then he spread his thoughts further, looking, reaching, feeling…
Perhaps it should have been the first place he looked, but he was not yet accustomed to searching for Sauron's Ring in his valley. Nor had there been any ill intent behind the shift, whatever it was, and he had not thought to suspect the One. After examining the shimmers of art and dominion reflected in Vilya's awareness, he decided there was still no reason to suspect the One. Rather, it was Narya that felt different. Something had happened to Mithrandir.
Something was still happening to Mithrandir.
With a final cough, Elrond pushed out of his chair before Galdor could hit him again. He shook his miruvor-soaked robes and waved off Erestor's concern. "I am well," he said, "but perhaps we should adjourn for a time."
Galdor nodded slowly. "If you are certain. But we must still make plans in the event that Mithlond comes under attack. We cannot protect all the ships needed to ferry refugees to Aman, assuming there are refugees. We need a second port, and we need to spread the ships between Mithlond and—"
"Yes, but not now," Elrond interrupted. His head spun, and the study seemed cold. Moving to the hearth, he stirred the logs within and coaxed new life into the fitful fire. At the same time, he reached again toward Narya, probing gently, but he received no response. He hesitantly quested for Nenya, but Galadriel made no answer, either. Perhaps she was unaware that anything had happened, for if Elrond had not experienced the shift while in the haven of his own valley, he might not notice it now. It had become faint. Faded. Scarce to be felt. Nevertheless, something about Narya's bearer had changed.
Behind him, Erestor cleared his throat. "Do you wish to name a time for another meeting?"
A difficult question. If something was wrong, it would have to be righted. But Elrond did not yet know what would be required of him. He did not even know if anything was wrong. At the moment, he only knew that something was different. "Beyond finding another port for Círdan's ships, what more have we to discuss?" he asked, his mind only partially on the question. Narya and the One Ring were drifting closer.
"We should sense missives to Eryn Galen and Lothlórien," Galdor said. "If our hopes fail, we need to know if the elves there will flee to the West."
"Does Círdan have ships enough for all of them?" Erestor asked.
"That is something else we must determine."
"Celeborn and Galadriel will not flee. Nor will Thranduil," Elrond said with certainty, rubbing his brow. It seemed that Narya and the One Ring were coming toward him. "They will give their people leave to go, but only a few will forsake the forests. Many of those elves outlasted Morgoth. They will seek to outlast Sauron."
"Morgoth ignored the Silvan folk for the most part," Galdor said darkly. "Will Sauron do the same? Eryn Galen and Lothlórien have been thorns in his side for many years. The people there must be told of the risks!"
"They know them well," Elrond said, turning toward the door of his study. He could now hear the faint murmur of voices in the hall, and he walked forward, deciding to meet potential trouble rather than waiting for it.
When he opened the door, he began to have second thoughts.
The first thing he saw was Mithrandir's staff. He saw nothing else for a moment because he was trying to work out how it was walking on its own. It took a moment for his eyes to travel down the staff to Peregrin Took, who was wrapped tightly in a hobbit cloak and whose eyes flashed with something that did not belong in a hobbit. Bewildered, Elrond looked for Mithrandir and found Radagast, who stood just behind Pippin and clutched his own staff with a fierceness that suggested he wanted nothing more than to blend with the colors of the hallway until he could not be seen. Behind Radagast stood a barefoot Mithrandir, looking as bewildered as Elrond felt and leaning on Aragorn—who should have been in the Wilds—as though he needed support. With a closed expression, Aragorn held Mithrandir's boots in one hand propped up said wizard with the other. Frodo and Merry stood just behind them, the former looking worried and the latter looking furious enough to challenge the Dark Lord himself.
Unable to discern the problem through appearance alone, Elrond brushed Vilya's awareness and made an alarming discovery: Pippin was holding more than just Mithrandir's staff.
Elrond shot an astonished look at Mithrandir, but Mithrandir was not looking at him. Mithrandir was tugging on his beard and struggling to get his balance. Aragorn murmured something that was probably meant to be reassuring, but his was the only voice in the hallway. All others seemed to be waiting for someone else to take the first step.
Movement drew Elrond's attention to the side as Erestor joined him in the doorway. The counselor took a long look at the assemblage in the hall. "I know not what happened to bring you all here," he said at length, "but it must be a fascinating tale if Aragorn has charge of a wizard's boots and Peregrin Took has charge of a wizard's staff. What charge were you given in exchange, Mithrandir?"
Mithrandir looked around uncertainly. Aragorn grimaced but said nothing. Apparently running out of patience, Pippin leaned against Mithrandir's staff, scowled fiercely, and asked, "Are you going to let us in or must we conduct our business in the hallway?"
Grappling with sudden and impossible recognition, Elrond inhaled sharply. Erestor gave him a startled look. "Something is amiss?"
"Oh yes," Elrond heard himself say, his voice deceptively mild. "Something is amiss."
Perplexed, Erestor looked again at those standing beyond the doorway before directing his attention back to Elrond, his gaze intent and measuring. "I will send for fresh robes so you do not smell as though you drowned in the cordial," he said at length. "While I am out, do you wish me to fetch a second decanter of miruvor?"
Elrond shook his head. "Dorwinion. At least several casks of the strong variety that Thranduil favors." He stepped back and gestured for the group to enter. "Make certain we do not run out."
Given the situation, Elrond looked surprisingly calm. Aragorn might have drawn comfort from this except that Elrond often looked surprisingly calm when he did not wish to reveal a problem's severity. No one else looked surprisingly calm, which seemed a much more reliable gauge of the fact that Gandalf now looked like Pippin and Pippin now looked like Gandalf.
"It comes down to a question of shape and hue," Radagast said, rubbing his brow. "For a wizard, these things are not necessarily...binding. They can be shed or changed at great need."
"And given to another?" Galdor asked incredulously.
"Usually, no. But in this case, Gandalf forcibly kept a portion of Pippin's hue—"
"What was Gandalf doing with a portion of Pippin's hue?" Elrond interrupted.
"Trying to give it back," Gandalf growled.
Aragorn gritted his teeth, wishing they could find some way to postpone explanations. They would have to do this all over again when Erestor and Sam arrived with clothes for Elrond and Gandalf.
"Does that really matter?" Merry asked. "I'd think we would be more concerned about undoing this than figuring out who was doing what."
"Part of the undoing might lie in the details of who was doing what," Aragorn explained.
"Then if we are agreed, are we able to establish the who and the what?" Elrond asked, leaning back in his chair. Aragorn frowned. No one should look that composed after discovering a wizard in a hobbit's body and a hobbit in a wizard's body.
"I altered the color in Gandalf's beard to match the color in Pippin's hair," Radagast said.
"He then altered the color in Pippin's hair to match the color in my beard," Gandalf added, arms folded and hobbit eyes blazing. "But rather than simply shifting the colors, he shifted the forms!"
This apparently meant something, but Aragorn had no idea what. If he judged the expressions of Elrond and Galdor aright, they were equally lost.
"It is something I do often!" Radagast protested. "Never before have I had anyone fight to keep that which was not his!"
From a chair in the corner, Pippin cleared his throat. All eyes swung his direction. In a testament to the depth of his shock, Pippin had been silent after uncovering—quite literally, since Gandalf's larger frame had burst his hobbit clothes—what had happened. Aragorn could hardly blame him. He had been rendered speechless himself when a flood of impressive Quenyan oaths had rolled forth from a supposedly innocent hobbit mouth. "I don't mean to…" Pippin began, but he quickly trailed off. He reached toward his neck, winced when he encountered beard, batted the offending grey away, and felt his throat. "Am I meant to sound like this?"
"You sound like Gandalf," Merry said flatly. "Was that what you were asking?"
Pippin shook his head. "Look, I don't mean to interrupt if we're working on getting me back to what I should be, but would someone please explain in simple terms why I'm now Gandalf?"
"You aren't," Radagast said.
Everyone stared at Radagast. "He isn't?" Galdor asked.
"He certainly looks and sounds like Gandalf," Frodo added.
"Yes, but the form alone has changed," Radagast said. "As I was trying to explain earlier, I gave Gandalf a portion of Pippin's form: the color and texture of his hair. I did the same to Gandalf. When Aragorn rode up and startled us, I released my hold on their forms so that I might react defensively. At that point, Pippin's hair and Gandalf's beard should have been restored to their proper places." Radagast looked expectantly down at Gandalf, his brow creasing. "They were not. Gandalf refused to yield Pippin's shape and hue. Rather, he used the connection I had formed between them to claim the rest, thrusting aside his own form which then flowed back along the link to Pippin."
"Something was being stolen from me," Gandalf said coldly. He made good use of Pippin's expressive face and graced them all with a dark look. "You would have done likewise if you had spent two months as Saruman's guest."
Silence fell. No one seemed to have anything to say to that. Eventually, Elrond coughed politely and turned to Radagast. "Can you do as you did before? Can you shift their shapes and hues and restore them to their proper forms?"
Radagast shook his head. "The final words in this casting were not mine but Gandalf's. He sealed the shift in form. As such, only he can undo it. Were he to lift his sealing, I believe that both Gandalf and Pippin would be immediately restored."
Everyone looked expectantly at Gandalf. Gandalf folded his arms over his chest. "Shape and hue are not my study. I do not know what was sealed, much less how to release it."
"Is there anything you might try, Radagast?" Elrond asked.
"Several things, all of them dangerous, and none of them likely to work."
"You mean I'm stuck like this?" Pippin demanded.
"Couldn't we just recreate the circumstances?" Merry asked.
"Not while Gandalf is holding to Pippin's form as tightly as he is," Radagast answered. "If we wait several years for the sealing to weaken, I might be able to—"
"Several years?" Pippin, Frodo, and Merry chorused together.
A knock at the door prevented further discussion, and Erestor entered, followed closely by Sam. With some awkward bustle, Sam presented hobbit-sized clothes to Gandalf while Erestor handed Elrond a change of robes before placing a decanter of miruvor on the desk. "Cordial for now," he told Elrond. "The Dorwinion I hold as my hostage. For ransom, I ask to be told what is happening."
"I believe Radagast can explain it best," Elrond said. "Aragorn, would you attend me?"
Glad of any excuse to part with the increasingly tense hobbits and wizards, Aragorn made no objection to the fact that the Chieftain of the Dúnedain had just been assigned a squire's duties.
"Radagast has shared why he is in Rivendell," Elrond murmured as Aragorn helped him out of his sodden garments. "Why have you returned? I did not look to see you for several months."
"I bring tidings from the searchers," Aragorn said, draping the wet robes over a chair near the hearth. He winced at a sudden oath from Erestor and wondered how good Frodo's Sindarin was. He hoped Bilbo had not taught his nephew some of the more…colorful expressions. "Eight black horses were discovered south of the Ford," he continued. "We found also one black cloak rent nearly in twain. But we have found no trace of the Ringwraiths, and none can discern their presence. Not yet." He paused. What he had to say next touched upon the reason he had personally returned to Imladris. "If you wish to expand the search," he said slowly, "we have enough Rangers gathered in the Angle to do so."
In the process of tying off the fastenings of his new robe, Elrond looked up, his gaze sharp. "Your tone suggests otherwise."
Aragorn gritted his teeth. The search for the Ringwraiths was necessary to ensure Frodo's safety, but in order for that search to take place, a concession was necessary. A concession that would deepen the debt his people already owed the elves and serve as yet another reminder that the line of Isildur could not sustain itself much longer. "If you wish for the Rangers' aid, we must beg a boon of you. Now is the time when game grows fat in preparation for winter, and our hunting parties look to stock our cold-rooms. If we call forth as many men as will be necessary for these searches—"
"Imladris will provision those undertaking the search," Elrond interrupted quietly. "You need not dip into your own supplies. And your people are welcome to our larders should you have need of them this winter."
"You have our thanks," Aragorn said, trying to keep the stiffness from his voice. "Food for the searchers will suffice for now."
"As you wish." Smoothing down his new robes, Elrond turned back to the group. Aragorn did likewise, noting that Gandalf was now properly clothed and Erestor was now properly stunned.
"Little wonder that hobbits do not wear shoes," Gandalf was saying with a baleful glare at his feet. "Never before have my toes itched so much! Is this customary?"
Merry blinked. Frodo shifted uncomfortably. Sam suddenly found the floor to be of great interest. Beneath his beard, Pippin flushed a deep scarlet and darted a glance at the other hobbits. "It isn't spoken of in polite circles," he grated.
"If you needed Uncle Merimac's cream, you could have asked," Merry muttered. "I packed some just in case."
"How was I to know that?" Pippin hissed.
Erestor cleared his throat. "So Mithrandir is Peregrin and Peregrin is—"
"In shape and hue only," Radagast interrupted. "The form has changed. Nothing else."
"Then how do we change the form back?" Erestor asked.
"That is the problem," Elrond said. "There does not seem to be an easy solution."
"What, then?" Pippin demanded. "Should I wander about Rivendell being subtle and quick to anger?"
Gandalf's curly head slowly turned, eyes glinting. "Subtle and quick to anger?"
"I thought you were supposed to say yes and no to all questions," Merry whispered.
"No, that's elves," Sam corrected, immediately shutting his mouth when all elven eyes snapped his direction.
Aragorn frowned in the ensuing silence, wondering if he should point out the truth in the claim or if that would only make matters worse. He was saved from having to decide by Elrond, who broke the silence with his usual diplomatic grace. "The fewer who know of this, the better. There is fear and concern enough without adding to it. As such, I think Pippin and Gandalf should remain here until this is resolved."
"What if this cannot be resolved?" Aragorn wondered. He spread his hands defensively when he found himself the victim of several impressive glares. "The question should be considered! Hope will only reach so far if things cannot be set right."
"That time has not yet come, and until it does, hope's reach will have to suffice," Elrond said. "We are not prepared to—"
A loud growl rumbled over the top of Elrond's words, silencing him by virtue of sheer surprise. Everyone looked at Gandalf. Gandalf blinked and looked at his stomach. Gandalf's stomach responded to the scrutiny with a second growl.
"If Gandalf has Pippin's form, does that mean he has Pippin's appetite?" Merry asked. "Because Pip's still in his tweens. At least, his form is. And if a tween is hungry, it's difficult for him to concentrate on anything."
"Midafternoon," Pippin murmured, scratching irritably at his beard. "I should be thinking of heading down to the kitchens for a bit of a snack. Only I'm not."
"But your form is," Frodo said.
A third growl rumbled through the room. Gandalf held his stomach, eyes narrow, and Pippin sighed. "I'm afraid it will only get worse before it gets better. And it will only get better if it has something to eat."
Frodo looked at Elrond. "It probably would be safest if no one went anywhere for a while, but a quick run to the kitchens wouldn't hurt, would it?"
Elrond frowned. "We can easily have food sent here."
"It won't take but a minute," Merry said. "Pippin and Gandalf could both come, and Pippin could tell Gandalf what would taste good and what would be filling."
Aragorn studied the hobbits, hearing a desperate note from both Merry and Frodo. He recognized the look in their eyes, and he saw it mirrored in Sam and Pippin, odd though it was to see such restlessness on the wizard's weathered face. They needed to move. To get out. To walk away from the study and entertain at least the illusion of walking away from the problem. "I do not see that it would do much harm to stretch our legs for a bit," Aragorn said. "If you are concerned, I will accompany them and distract any who might wish to speak with them."
Elrond hesitated. "I suppose there will be few in the hallways at this time…"
"Not on so beautiful a fall day," Aragorn agreed. "Many will feel the need to be out and about." He said this last with a slight nod toward the hobbits, and Elrond inclined his head.
"So be it. Speak to as few as possible and return quickly."
"We will," Aragorn promised. "Shall we be off?" he asked the hobbits.
"If you help me," Pippin said, struggling upright and promptly overbalancing. Aragorn caught him quickly, and with Galdor's help, they managed to steady him atop wobbly legs.
"Let us go, then," Gandalf said. His growling stomach made him easy to track as he crossed the room. "The sooner we silence this beast, the better."
"Beast," Pippin muttered, swaying precariously. "That's my stomach he's talking about, not some furry creature like this beard."
Aragorn bit back a smile and ushered the hobbit-turned-wizard out of the room.