West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
Betwixt Stone and Tree
The journey from Moria to Lothlorien. Frodo encounters a few problems that Tolkien had not anticipated.
Story notes: In the final chapters I have lifted several pieces of text directly from Tolkien's work.
Frodo pitched forward, his already bruised and battered ribs impacting hard with the boulder strewn ground and driving out what little breath his gasping lungs contained. For a moment all sensation of sound, touch and sight fled as he lay, trying to draw air back into his body. Then feeling came crashing back, eliciting a loud cry as several different sites of pain vied for his attention.
Two sets of hands rolled him on to his side, producing a level of agony that he had not thought possible, and still retain consciousness. Legolas and then Sam's faces swam into view behind the dark spots crawling across his vision.
Sam laid a hand on his shoulder. "Mr Frodo. Just lay still a minute."
Pain had not dulled his memory, however, and Frodo tried to rise, knowing that there may be orcs only minutes behind them. A bright spear of pain lanced through his left thigh and this new input was finally sufficient to push him over into blessed oblivion.
He was having a nightmare. He had to be. A bare landscape was bouncing past his barely focused eyes and with each jogging movement pain blasted through him. He struggled to escape, feeling that if he could just lie still for a moment the pain may subside, but he was crushed against someone's chest. Summoning all his energy, Frodo lifted his head to try and ascertain who it was that held him and felt some measure of relief when Aragorn's face, and not that of an orc, came into focus above him.
The ranger had obviously sensed his attempts to move for he glanced down and gasped, "Hold on, Frodo. You're going to be alright."
That was all he had breath for, however, as he continued to run. Frodo grabbed a handful of his friend's shirt in an effort to remain upright and concentrated on trying to stay conscious through the pain that drove through him at every jolting step.
At one point they flew past Legolas. The elf was standing, bow in hand and arrow nocked to let fly at something behind them. Moments later he overtook them, the quiver strapped between his shoulder blades, bereft of arrows. Frodo lost the battle to stay alert shortly after that and the blackness closed around him once more.
A bright light was shining in his eyes and he could hear voices but they seemed to be coming from a long way off. The only thing that was clear was his name. Someone was talking about him. He was no longer being carried and his body appreciated the stillness. For the moment the level of pain was endurable and Frodo decided to try opening his eyes. He was lying on his right side, squinting against the bright sunshine and he could see Merry and Pippin trying to light a small fire a few feet away.
Legolas' voice came from somewhere behind him. "He is awake again, Aragorn." Frodo tried to turn, to see the elf and cried out as the action caused a rekindling of pain in his side and leg. Strong but gentle hands restrained him and something behind him prevented him rolling on to his back.
Legolas' face bent over him. "Lay still, little one. Aragorn will tend to your hurts in a moment." A cool hand stoked his brow and he complied, his back resting against the elf's knees.
Lying still, and trying to bring the pain under control, Frodo attempted to piece together the events that had lead up to this moment.
Boromir had picked him up bodily when he had tried to run to the wizard. Frodo's own screams had almost drowned out Gandalf's last instruction, "Fly, you fools."
And then Gandalf had disappeared over the edge of the crumbling bridge and Boromir had fled; along with the rest of the fellowship, only setting Frodo down when they had left the doors of Moria behind them, and only then to stop Gimli from returning to try and rescue their guide. Frodo felt tears begin to slide down his cheek again as his memory brought back the image of Gandalf's face; acceptance of his fate written clear.
Aragorn had taken up the role of leader, then, gathering up the scattered group and leading them on towards Lorien. It was nearly sunset when they left the gates and they had not travelled far before darkness descended. Taking refuge in a small dip, the only cover in this sparse landscape, they had not dared to light a fire; knowing that orcs would be abroad in the darkness.
Frodo did not know how they had managed to avoid detection for most of the night. His side and back had been hurting abominably, as a result of the spear thrust and he suspected that he may have cracked or broken ribs, for he was feeling a little feverish. There was no point complaining, however, as there was little to be done to comfort him in these wilds. Fortunately, Frodo had drawn the first watch, so once that was over he could roll himself in his blanket and sleep until morning. So he had hoped, but a combination of pain, fever and grief had kept him always on the edge of sleep and by the time the first glimmers of dawn were beginning to lighten the sky he had slept only in snatches and was feeling very weary.
Aragorn had shaken him awake from one of his naps, clapping a hand over his mouth when he tried to ask what the matter was. Then Frodo had heard the orcs shouting to one another. The fellowship had lain silent and still, Aragorn and Boromir with swords drawn and Gimli with a firm grip on his axe. Legolas crouched with drawn bow, within the shadow of a wind blasted gorse bush. The hobbits had drawn their swords too, although they were wise enough to know that their lack of skill meant they would be of little use if it came to a fight. At least they may be able to defend themselves.
The lead orc had time for only one yell of surprised discovery before Legolas' first arrow caught him in the throat. After that, there was no chance of hiding and Aragorn had lead the way as they sprung up to defend themselves as best they could. Fortunately, with the waning of the night, most orcs had returned to the dark sanctuary of Moria and this was only a small scouting party, running back before the first rays of the sun could catch them. Of the original twelve, only two remained standing by the time Aragorn decided to call his group to run fearful even now, that the noise of fighting may attract others.
It was as they had been running that Frodo had fallen. Memory of the fall brought a renewal of the pain and he tried to remember why he had tumbled. Hobbits were not as light footed as elves but they were most certainly sure footed and Frodo could not understand why he had tripped.
He tried to raise himself on one arm to look at his left thigh, which was throbbing painfully. Unfortunately, the movement brought more agony to his left side and he did not need Legolas' hand on his shoulder to guide him back down.
"What is wrong with my leg?" Frodo managed to gasp, clutching his arms about his ribs. Aragorn knelt down before him, tucking a blanket around the trembling hobbit. Frodo had not realised how cold he was until he felt the warmth of the woollen fabric around his shoulders and he sighed with relief.
Aragorn's looked into his eyes steadily, assessing Frodo's response to what he was about to say. "You have an arrow in your thigh."
Frodo felt his stomach turn a queasy flip flop and swallowed hard against the rising nausea. Aragorn waited until Frodo's eyes returned to his.
"Once Merry and Pippin have the fire going I will remove it and then tend to your side. I had quite forgotten about the spear. Why did you not mention it last night?"
Frodo tried to dissemble, unwilling to submit to the removal of his outer clothing and exposure of the mail shirt beneath it. "I didn't want to bother anyone and the pain wasn't too bad."
"Legolas tells me that he watched you all night and you hardly slept. If the pain was bad enough to keep you awake I should think it was bad enough to need attention," the man reproved.
"I don't want to be a burden. You big people do so much and I didn't want to cause any more trouble. You have enough to worry about, now that we are without...Gandalf." He had to say the name around a lump that had suddenly formed in his throat and blink back another tear.
"Frodo. You are not a burden and healing, at least, is something that I can do to help ease the burden you carry."
Sam joined them at that moment, carrying another blanket and Legolas helped him drape it carefully around their ailing friend, making sure that it did not put any pressure on the arrow shaft, which protruded from both sides of Frodo's leg.
"Here's your pack, Strider. Pippin's got the fire going and Merry's set some water to boil".
"Thank you, Sam." Aragorn took the pack and began to rummage through it, while Sam pushed Frodo's hair back from his damp brow and smiled. The smile didn't quite make it to his eyes, however, and it gave Frodo little comfort.
Trying to take his mind off his own body, Frodo asked, "What happened to the other orcs?"
Sam smiled. "Master Legolas finished ?em off, Mr Frodo. They didn't stand much of a chance against him when he got room for a good shot."
Legolas laughed behind him. "It was not as easy as all that. My last arrow went wide and I had to beg one from Aragorn to finish the final orc."
The conversation continued above him but Frodo found that the voices were fading in and out and a grey mist was creeping over the world. Somewhere in the distance he thought he could hear someone singing softly but he could not make out the voice or the melody.
Suddenly, a hand touched his shoulder, and Legolas' voice came, closer in his ear. "Stay with us, little one. Try not to fall back into the darkness."
Frodo blinked and tried to bring the world back in to focus. Sam was holding his hand and Legolas was bending over him: both faces showed concern. When he saw the hobbit's eyes clear a little the elf smiled.
"That's better. Aragorn will bring you something to drink in a moment. Do you think you could sit up a little if I help you?" Frodo nodded, although he was not at all sure that he had the strength.
Legolas shuffled a little behind him then Frodo felt an arm reach beneath his shoulders and another beneath his knees. He was slowly and gently turned and lifted until he was resting in Legolas' lap, the arrow placed just beyond the elf's legs and Frodo's shoulders cradled in the crook of his arm. The sudden movement left him feeling dizzy and a little sick, as though he had drunk too much ale, and Frodo closed his eyes again as he concentrated very hard on holding down the contents of his stomach. It had also reawakened the pain and he pulled an arm across his chest, attempting to support aching ribs.
Sam caught his free hand again and stroked it between both of his, worried to find it hot and sweaty. He quickly rearranged the blankets to recover his friend and shot a worried look at the elf. Legolas acknowledged him with the slightest of nods. It was obvious that Frodo was developing a fever, which did not bode well, when they were so far from the comfort of Lorien.
"Aragorn says you should try to get him to drink all of this." Frodo opened his eyes as he heard Merry's voice. "Hello, Frodo. Feeling any better now that we've stopped?" His cousin smiled down at him, handing Sam a small, steaming cup.
"A little, thank you, Merry. Is everyone else alright?" In his preoccupation with his own pain the thought had only just occurred to him that others may have been hurt.
"We're all well, Frodo. Just worried about you. But Aragorn is going to help you, when you've drunk that." He nodded at the cup in Sam's hand.
Frodo was still concerned, however. "Where's Pippin?"
"Stop fretting, cousin. Pip is with Aragorn. Our healer has appointed him his official helper and Pippin is taking great pride in mixing herbs and rolling bandages. I am dreading the next time I get a cold. Goodness knows what concoctions he will subject me to," Merry laughed and Frodo managed to respond with a weak smile.
"Well, come on now Frodo. You heard what Mr Merry said. The sooner you drink this, the sooner Strider will be able to deal with that arrow." Sam tilted the cup to his masters mouth and let a little of the warm liquid trickle between his lips. It tasted bitter and smelled awful but Frodo swallowed as best he could and then closed his eyes again as he fought to keep it in his stomach. After a little while the pain dulled and he found his breathing begin to ease. The world seemed to pull away from him and his thoughts became sluggish. The song drifted in to his mind again, its melody soothing him. When Legolas lifted him and carried him to where Aragorn was waiting, by the fire, he let out only a small whimper at the jostling of his ribs; his body lolling like a rag doll in the security of the elf's arms.
They laid him on his right side, his face turned to the small fire and supported by Gimli's rolled cloak so that he didn't fall onto his back. Blankets were wrapped around him, leaving his left leg exposed, where the thick, wicked looking, black arrow skewered his thigh.
Aragorn bent close to Frodo's ear. "I'm sorry, Frodo. This is going to hurt, but I promise I will be as gentle as I can."
The hobbit could only vaguely grasp the meaning of the healer's words; through the haze of the herbs he had been given and the soft murmur of song. Gimli gripped his left leg firmly, above and below the arrow and Legolas held the hobbit's shoulders. Merry took one of his cousin's hands and Sam and Pippin knelt by Aragorn, ready to offer help when required. Pippin was starting to look a little pale.
Boromir spared a glance at the group then returned to his survey of the surrounding countryside. With a threat of smoke from the fire and little cover they dare not go without a guard and the Steward had volunteered for the job. Sam, for one, was not unhappy that the man was as far away from Frodo and the ring as possible.
Aragorn took his dagger and carefully cut away the fabric of Frodo's breaches, around the black shaft of the arrow; pealing back the blood soaked material. Sam handed the ranger a white handled knife with a thin sharp blade. Giving a warning glance to Gimli, the ranger set his blade to the shaft of the arrow, just below the fletching. Frodo moaned as Aragorn ran the blade around the arrow several times, scoring deeper with each turn. The elven blade was very sharp but the vibrations of each circuit were transmitted down the arrow shaft to the hobbit's flesh torturing his nerves like finger nails dragged across a child's writing slate. The fletching finally fell away.
Returning the knife to Pippin, Aragorn bent close to Frodo again. "This will be the worst of it Frodo. After this the pain will lessen."
Then he took hold of the tip of the arrow, just above the wickedly barbed tip, where it protruded from the front of the leg, and placed his other hand on the hobbit's thigh. With a quick glance of warning to the others he pulled the arrow right through, as swiftly as he could. Frodo screamed and bucked under Gimli and Legolas' restraining hands and Pippin turned a brighter shade of green. Sam swiftly reached over and placed two soft clean pads of linen on the wounds, pressing them firmly in place to slow the bleeding.
Although the drought that Aragorn had given him had helped to dissociate Frodo from the pain a little, the agony as the arrow was withdrawn was too much. His frantic attempt to pull away from the additional torture had also exacerbated the injuries in his chest and Frodo could not prevent the tears that flowed down his face, his sobs aggravating further his breathing problems.
Legolas' voice seemed to come from a great distance. "I have never tried this with a mortal but I may be able to help him, Aragorn."
Aware that Frodo was slipping into shock, Aragorn grasped at the offer; understanding instinctively what Legolas was intending and wishing that Elrond were here. "Try it."
Legolas placed a hand on Frodo's brow and took a deep breath; his bright eyes becoming unfocussed, as though in elven sleep. Merry watched, in amazement, as Frodo's breathing calmed, the tears slowing as his cousins eyes lost their wild panicked stare.
Frodo felt the, now familiar, touch of elven healing and accepted it gratefully. Legolas' strong and bright soul melody rang through him, lifting the darkness and chasing away his pain. When he had been recovering, in Rivendell, Elrond had used this healing gift on the hobbit several times. Elrond's song had been deep pools and cool hollows, sentinelled by silence and ancient trees but the wood elf's was a place of sunlit glades, sprinkled with wild flowers and the splash of cool fresh streams.
With the easing of his pain the herbal drought resumed its work and after a few moments Legolas blinked and smiled across at Aragorn. "I think you can proceed now."
Pippin handed the ranger three long leaves. They were withered and dried but Merry recognised the shape of the athelas plant. He pushed Frodo's hair back from a sweat soaked forehead and watched as Aragorn breathed on the leaves and muttered something under his breath, and then he crushed them and let them fall in to the bowl of warm water that Pippin offered. The small dell was filled with the fresh scent of a bright spring morning, just after the rain and all were refreshed and calmed.
Aragorn dipped a clean cloth in the water and then set about bathing the two small wounds on Frodo's leg. Frodo relaxed as the pain lessened but the healer noted a reddening of the flesh around the punctures and a sheen of perspiration on his patient's brow. When he had finished, Sam placed clean, soft pads on the wounds and held them in place with a bandage that Pippin proffered.
With a concerned expression, Aragorn handed the truncated arrow to Legolas. "What do you sense, friend?"
Legolas took the dart, held it to his nose and then scrutinised the point. His face was grim when he replied. "There is poison on the tip. I cannot tell what type"
Pippin's quiet voice chimed in. "Is he going to die?"
Aragorn's face was full of compassion and pity. "I do not know, Pippin. But Frodo has already proved that he is made of stern stuff. I do not think he will give in without a fight."
Sam looked up from where he was tying off the last of the bandage. "If Mr Frodo can survive a morgul blade, a little orc arrow won't see him off."
Gimli smacked Sam on the back, nearly knocking the small hobbit over, "Well said, Master Samwise."
Aragorn's face remained grim, however. "We are a long way from Lorien or Imladris. I have not Elrond's skill and I do not know how the poison will affect him. I am afraid our resources are very limited, here in the wild and Frodo will have to rely very much on his own strength to overcome this injury."
Now that the arrow had been removed they could move Frodo more easily and Legolas held the small hobbit in a sitting position against him, while Merry and Aragorn removed the clothing from his upper body, to determine what injury had been done by the spear.
Now only vaguely aware of his surroundings, Frodo's head rolled helplessly against the elf's shoulder. He made no move to protest when his shirt was unfastened and the bright silver rings of the mithril tunic were revealed to all for the first time.
Aragorn laughed. "Look, my friends! Here's a pretty hobbit skin to wrap an elven princeling in! If it were known that hobbits had such hides, all the hunters of Middle-earth would be riding to the Shire."
"And all the hunters in the world would be in vain," said Gimli, gazing at the mail in wonder. "It is a mithril coat. Mithril! I have never seen or heard tell of one so fair. Is this the coat that Gandalf spoke of? Then he undervalued it. But it was well given!"
"I have often wondered what he and Bilbo were doing, so close in his little room," said Merry. "Bless the old hobbit! I love him more than ever. I hope we get a chance of telling him about it!"
Pippin glanced up from pouring fresh warm water into a bowl. "So that's the mithril shirt that Bilbo brought back from his journeys with the dwarves."
Gimli took a closer look. "It is very well crafted. Small wonder that it turned that spear and a shame it was that the orc did not aim higher for it would have turned an arrow easily."
Aragorn began to unfasten the ties at the neck. "Aye. But I suspect he did not come away totally unscathed from the encounter with the spear."
With the help of Merry and Legolas he managed to slip it off, along with the leather vest beneath, to expose Frodo's chest. Merry sucked in a sharp breath as he surveyed his cousin's torso.
The spear had been thrust with such force that the rings of the shirt had been driven through the leather vest and in to Frodo's flesh, drawing blood at the place where the point had struck. It was not that which had caused the most damage, however. Legolas alerted the Ranger to Frodo's back. The force of the blow had driven the hobbit against the wall and a large black bruise, with much scoring from the rings of the shirt, showed just how hard he had hit. It was here that Aragorn felt the tenderness of two cracked ribs and guessed that it was this which was causing the most pain, now that the leg had been tended.
Adding more athelas to a fresh bowl of water, the ranger bathed the bruises and placed soft pads of linen beneath a broad bandage, before helping Merry and Legolas replace Frodo's outer clothing.
"Shouldn't we put the mail shirt back on him too? I don't like the idea of poor Frodo being unprotected," offered Pippin; his face a little less green now.
Aragorn handed back the white hafted knife to Legolas, who tucked it away in the brace at his wrist. "Ordinarily I would agree, Pippin. But I am worried about the effects of the poison and want to be able to get at Frodo's chest to treat him if I need to. The dressings will need changing too."
Pippin looked as though he wanted to pursue the matter but Merry put a restraining hand on his arm, nodding to the still semi conscious, Frodo. Having tended the Ringbearer's hurts they wrapped him in more blankets and left him to rest by the fire. His pains eased; at last, Frodo let himself be lulled to sleep by a gentle melody and the image of tall, silver barked trees slipping through his drowsing mind.
The others gathered around the meagre fire while Sam began to organise something to eat. Pippin tackled Aragorn again, as Merry rolled up the mithril shirt and tucked it in Frodo's pack. "What did you mean when you said that you needed to be able to get at Frodo's chest?"
Aragorn sighed, not wanting to go into too much detail, having seen how the young hobbit had reacted earlier. He did not expect him to swoon away but the Ranger saw little point in worrying him about what may happen. Better to deal with problems as they arose. On the other hand, Frodo's friends had a right to know what may be in store for him.
"Some poisons cause paralysis. If that happens I may have to help Frodo to breath, or even restart his heart."
The words were harsh and unsweetened but, for all their diminutive size, these were not children and the ranger felt that they could take the truth squarely. He felt a little sorry, however, when he saw Pippin blanch again. Merry placed an arm around the younger hobbit's shoulders and Sam reached across and squeezed his hand.
"Don't you worry, Mr Pippin. Strider said that Frodo was made of stern stuff, and he was right. Master Elrond said that Frodo had been chosen to carry the ring and I can't believe that whoever chose him would leave him now."
"Is there nothing you can give him to counteract the poison?" asked the ever practical, Merry.
"I do not know what poison has been used so I can only treat the symptoms as they appear," Aragorn replied. "At present he has a fever but that could as easily be caused by an infection in the wound or simply by his cracked ribs. The poisons used by orcs are many and varied in action." Merry realised that it was only the second time that he had seen Aragorn appear helpless: the first time had been in Moria, when they had watched Gandalf disappear into the chasm and now the Ranger's face held that same look.
Boromir and Gimli switched places on guard duty and the rest settled down to eat the meagre rations Sam handed out. Aragorn sat near Frodo, keeping one eye on his patient while he ate. He would get Sam to make a thin broth to feed his master when he awoke. Frodo would need all the strength he could get if he was to pull through this. The Ranger's first day as leader had started badly and was showing no signs of improving.
Frodo awoke to an insistent throbbing in his leg. His head ached and his body burned. He wished they had not put him so close to the fire and tried to push off the blankets that swaddled him too closely.
"Now then, Mr Frodo. Don't you go trying to take them blankets off. You'll catch a chill and that won't do." Frodo opened eyes and brought them into focus with difficulty, upon Sam's concerned face.
"I know. But you've got a bit of a fever and it won't do you no good to get cold. You just lie still and I'll fetch Strider." Sam got up and moved out of his line of vision. There was a muttered conversation in the distance and then Strider came to sit beside him.
"Hello, Frodo. How are you feeling now?" He reached out and placed a hand against Frodo's cheek and then touched fingers to the pulse point in his neck. His expression grew concerned as he reached into the blankets to double check and felt the hobbits chest. The linen shirt beneath his hands was soaked with perspiration and he could feel heat rising from the hobbit in waves. Frodo's pulse was racing and his breathing was too rapid. Aragorn drew the blankets aside and checked beneath the dressings on his patient's leg. There was a slight redness around the wound but nothing to account for the level of fever in the small frame. Noting Frodo watching him, Aragorn tried to smile reassuringly.
"The wounds are healing well, Frodo. I'll see if I can get you something to help lower that fever. How are your ribs feeling?" Frodo tried to take in a slightly deeper breath and winced as a sharp pain shot through his body.
"They don't.........hurt unless.........I take too deep.........a breath."
Aragorn nodded sympathetically. He had broken ribs before and knew that Frodo was probably under playing the level of pain he was in. He was a little surprised, therefore, a moment later when the hobbit volunteered the information that he had an awful headache. The man smiled brightly and looked up and beyond his charge.
"I know someone who is very good at curing headaches." There was soft laugh and Frodo's turned his head, wincing as the throbbing redoubled. Legolas' musical voice floated down to him.
"Would you like me to deal with that while you prepare the herbs, Aragorn?"
Still smiling, the Man stood. "I will return in a few minutes."
There was a rustle of movement beside him and Legolas' shadow fell across the hobbit. Frodo found himself being rolled on to his uninjured side and gentle, cool fingers teased back the blankets from his neck, coming to rest on the hobbit's shoulders. Legolas' thumbs began a circular motion while the long fingers kneaded gently at the ligaments above Frodo's collar bone. It was a little painful at first but as the elf continued Frodo began to feel his muscles relax.
"How did Aragorn know you could do this, Legolas?
The elf laughed again. "He had a little too much to drink at a celebration feast a few years ago and had to join a patrol with me the next morning. I managed to rescue his dignity."
The fingers moved to the back of Frodo's neck swirling gently in the curls at his nape and working up his scalp to the crown. The hobbit sighed with relief as the headache began to recede and he allowed his eyes to close as the lowering pain level helped him to relax a little more. "What was that song you were singing earlier, Legolas?"
"When, Little One?"
"When I was going to sleep, earlier. It was a lovely song. What was it about? I couldn't quite catch the words. There was something about two trees........"
Legolas paused in his kneading. "I do not remember singing then, Frodo. Perhaps you dreamed it. Sometimes fever or pain can have that effect."
As he finished, Legolas laid his hands lightly on Frodo's shoulders, where he had begun his ministrations. A sensation of cool calm sang through him and he relaxed even further, falling into a light doze.
When he was roused again, Legolas was gone and the blankets had been drawn tightly about his shoulders. Aragorn was kneeling at his side, holding a small cup of steaming liquid.
"This will help the fever, Frodo. Do you think you can drink it for me?" Frodo nodded, relieved that the action no longer set off a pounding in his head.
"Let me help you, Mr Frodo." Sam's arm slipped beneath his master's shoulders and raised him. Frodo moaned at the rekindled pain in his ribs and his two helpers waited for him to recover a little before moving him a little more. The gardener settled himself behind his friend until Frodo was leaning against his chest, his head resting against Sam's collar bone. The younger hobbit wrapped his arms carefully around his master, holding him steady and Frodo found the action very comforting, once his ribs had stopped protesting at the jostling.
He drank the bitter liquid and then allowed Aragorn to feed him a little vegetable broth, before Sam settled him back down. The Ringbearer dipped down into sleep again, letting a sweet melody draw him away from the pain and heat.
Frodo awoke to an unpleasant rocking sensation that was threatening to make him lose the contents of his stomach. He forced open heavy eyelids to find a leather jerkin before his face and a bleak landscape slipping past beyond it. His leg was throbbing and, despite the blankets that cocooned him, he felt cold and could not stop himself shivering. He tried to pull himself closer to the heat coming from the chest that he was clutched against, uncomfortably registering the fact that the jerkin belonged to Boromir and in a moment of panic he raised his hand to feel for the ring against his chest. It lay against his skin, secure upon its strong silver chain, for the moment.
Boromir stumbled upon some uneven ground and Frodo gasped as the movement sent more intense tremors of pain through his chest and leg.
"Mr Boromir, I think Frodo is awake again, sir." Sam's voice came from some distance below his line of vision and Frodo let out a mental sigh of relief as it resulted in a total cessation of the man's forward motion. There was still some chance that the hobbit would retain the contents of his wayward stomach.
Frodo was set down on his back on terra firma but the sudden alteration to his body position had a dreadful effect. A tidal wave of intense vertigo made him moan and throw his hands out to steady himself as the world spun insanely about him, forcing him to clench his teeth and swallow hard as he fought the rising nausea that accompanied the sensation.
He tried closing his eyes but found that only made matters worse as his mind lost all reference points and insisted that he was falling through the earth beneath him. So he opened them again and he tried to force into stillness the glory of a sunset or a sunrise sky spinning dizzily above him. He could not be sure which it was in his feverish, semi drugged state, and for the moment he did not care as long as he could force it to remain still.
Somewhere during his struggle Aragorn's face added itself to the whirling image and, as the gyrations slowed, he could see concern drawn in every line. Once the world stopped its alarming antics Frodo became aware of voices and noticed that Aragorn's mouth was moving.
"Frodo. Frodo. What is wrong? Are you in pain? Can you hear me?"
Giving one last swallow the hobbit decided it was safe to open his mouth without the danger of throwing up. "Dizzy..........Better now," he managed to gasp.
The ranger noted, with relief, that his charge's eyes were no longer trying to roll back in his head and reached out to Frodo's neck, checking the pulse. It was racing but, already, he could feel it starting to slow a little. Sam appeared at his shoulder, with a water bottle and began to gently dab at his master's face with a damp cloth. Only moments before, Frodo had felt chilled to the bone but the cool dampness felt good on his, now burning, body. He closed his eyes, submitting to Sam's gentle touch and was only vaguely aware of Aragorn and Legolas in conversation a little way off.
The Ranger joined the other members of the fellowship, where they stood in an uneasy group; worried expressions on their faces. Merry stood with his arm around Pippin's shoulder, trying to comfort the younger hobbit. Boromir and Gimli had one eye on their friends and the other on their surroundings. With night falling once more there was a good chance that another party of orcs would find them for they had depended rather on speed than stealth to make their escape and whilst their trail was not clear it would not be difficult for a seasoned tracker to pick up.
Legolas was watching Sam and Frodo, a slight frown drawing his perfect brows together. As Aragorn joined them the elf placed a restraining hand on his arm.
"Aragorn. I think I begin to recognise some of Frodo's symptoms."
His friend's face lit up for at least if they knew the course of the poison they had some hope of a anticipating and treating the symptoms. "Have you seen it before?"
"Yes. If I am correct they have used the essence of the calencareb mushroom." When his information was met with a blank expression, he elaborated. "They grow in dark, damp places; in fact I saw them several times on our journey through Moria. That is probably where the orcs harvested them."
His mouth turned down slightly at the corners in the way it always did when talking about the elves greatest enemy, as though speaking the very name, "orc," carried a taste that offended him. "They boil it down to concentrate it. Then it is only a matter of dipping the arrows. It is one of the easiest poisons to create. Fortunately, it is also one of those easiest to fight if one catches it early enough."
Aragorn let out a sigh of relief. Legolas continued, "Has Frodo mentioned feeling sick, for that is one of the first symptoms?"
His friend's face fell. "No. He has not."
Merry piped up, "Knowing Frodo, he'd probably not mention it if he thought it would cause anyone extra worry. I have noticed a certain look, though. I've seen it before when he's feeling sick."
When Gimli glanced back at him questioningly, Merry smiled. "He had a little too much to drink at my coming of age party and Sam and I had to put him to bed." He grinned widely as he remembered more carefree days. "He was awfully ill the next morning."
Legolas tilted his head and shot Aragorn a wide smile and the Ranger sent back a warning glare. Having Frodo know of his past misadventures was one thing but, as the leader, he had to try and retain the respect of the group. Legolas merely ducked his head and snorted and Aragorn shook his head. He had often wondered why Frodo always limited himself to two glasses of wine. The hobbit was obviously observing the rule of "once bitten, twice shy". He drew Legolas with him, back to Frodo and Sam.
"Before we ask him about the nausea, what other symptoms are there and is there an antidote?"
"A lot depends on how long the calencareb was boiled, as its effects grow stronger the more it is reduced. This problem is exacerbated in Frodo's case by his small size. What would be merely unpleasant for you or me could kill him." He began to tick the symptoms off on his fingers. "Upset stomach, dizziness, fever and chills and in the worst cases, hallucinations...." He frowned, "There's another one but I can't remember it. Sorry."
Aragorn's face became grim. "And the antidote?"
"It is possible to ride out the effects by simply treating the symptoms but if we can find the carebnesta plant the leaves will make a tea that will counteract it much faster. The good news is that this is the ideal countryside for carebnesta, although it is a small plant and difficult to spot."
Sam was pulling the blankets more tightly around his master as Legolas and Aragorn approached. Legolas knelt down and rested a hand lightly on Frodo's cheek, noting the excessive heat. Frodo raised his eyelids at the touch and the elf waited while the pupils focused on his face.
"Good evening, Little One. How are you feeling now?"
"A little better, now that we have stopped. But should we stay here? Aragorn said we would not be safe until we reached Lorien."
"We can rest for a little while. Perhaps you would like something to eat. You must keep up your strength." He watched Frodo's face keenly, feeling a little guilty for doing this to his friend, and nodded when he saw it pale. "Perhaps not. Do you feel a little sick?"
The hobbit swallowed hard. "Yes. I don't think I could eat anything, Legolas. I'm sorry." The elf tucked a stray damp curl behind the hobbit's delicate pointed ear and rested his palm against the damp cheek.
"It's alright, Frodo. I think it is a symptom of the poison from the arrow. We may be able to help you in a little while. Just rest, for the moment." Legolas stood and Aragorn took his place.
"You need to take in some fluids, Frodo, or you will feel worse. I want you to try sipping a little water every few minutes. If you are sick, the water will not be too bad, coming back, but if you are not it will ease the fever. Legolas thinks there may be a plant, nearby, that will help you. We are going to search for it now." He beckoned Pippin and handed him the water canteen.
"Sam, you will be of more use to your master, searching for the carebnesta. We need a gardener's eyes. Pippin, you are to give Frodo small sips of water every few minutes and keep him wrapped up. He may become a little disorientated with the fever but you must keep him as warm and quiet as possible." He patted Frodo's shoulder gently. "Hold on, Frodo." Then he and Sam left.
Leaving Gimli to stand protector over Frodo and Pippin, the others fanned out and began to hunt for the elusive plant. In the failing light, with only a verbal description to go on, it was a difficult task, but after several wrong identifications it was Sam who finally ran their quarry to ground, beneath a small gorse bush. Legolas cried out in delight and clapped the gardener on the back. Once back at camp with their prize, Merry and Boromir set about lighting a small fire and putting water to boil, while Aragorn chopped up a handful of the leaves, consulting Legolas on dosage and Sam relieved Pippin at Frodo's side.
It quickly became apparent to Sam that the poison was asserting itself more strongly in his master's body; almost as though it knew that a cure had been found and wanted to wreak as much havoc at possible in the remaining time available. Not for the first time in the past two days, Sam wished for Lord Elrond's gentle skills. Aragorn had studied beneath the healer but he did not have the Elrond's thousands of years of experience and there was something about the elf that made you feel better, just being in his presence. Sam shook himself.
"Well, he's not here, and there's no point wishing, Sam Gamgee. Mr Aragorn will do his best and that's better than most." He tried, once more, to rouse his master, long enough to take a couple of sips of water.
"Come on, now, Mr Frodo. Wake up and take a couple of swallows of this for me." Frodo whimpered and, although his eyes were open, he seemed to be seeing a different world.
Frodo was wrapped around in soft music. His eyes beheld two tall trees, silver with golden leaves, stirred by an ancient breeze from the birth of the world. Amongst their branches was a glimmer of crystal fruits, netted in the golden threads of loss and bitter sweet memory. A million stars shone in a deep velvet blue sky and a woman's voice chanted low and strong.
When Sam tried to raise Frodo a little to help him swallow the hobbit struggled and would have pushed his friend away, if he could have freed his arms of the blankets wrapping him so tightly. Sam was nothing, if not persistent however, and Frodo was finally persuaded to drink a little. If there was so much resistance to water, Sam tried not to think about the effort it would take to get Frodo to drink what was, from the smell now emanating from the pot over the fire, a rather unpleasant medicine.
Aragorn turned questioning eyes on Legolas, perched on his heals at his side. "Are you sure about this? I've been known to produce some pretty awful tasting medicines but this smells foul."
The elf grimaced in reply. "Oh yes. I could not forget that delicious aroma. I said it was an antidote but I said nothing about it tasting or smelling pleasant. My memories are a little hazy but on the one occasion I was given it I seem to remember being held down by three friends while another covered my mouth and pinched my nose until I had to swallow or suffocate."
Aragorn removed the pot from the fire and poured some of its contents into a cup, stirring in a liberal amount of honey, in a vain attempt to disguise what he assumed would taste as bad as it smelled. "Does this look the right dosage?" He held the cup out for Legolas' inspection and the elf glanced in quickly, and then, just as quickly, drew back as the smell assailed his nostrils.
"Half a cup would be the normal dose for an elf so I would not give him more than two or three mouthfuls. That looks about right." The elf looked as though he was trying hard not to throw up.
"How many doses does it take?" The ranger desperately hoped that his friend was going to say, "One," because he was not sure he could force any more doses down the Hobbit; indeed he was not certain that he would get the first dose down him.
Legolas smiled apologetically. "If it is going to work it will do so within an hour. Otherwise you will have to give another dose. You can administer no more than two, however, for it has some unpleasant side effects in large amounts. After that you will have to find some other remedy."
"You had better come and help. I have a feeling this is not going to be easy."
As the two approached a change came over the little hobbit. Suddenly, all colour drained from his face and his eyes rolled back. Frodo's back arched upwards and his arms and legs began to flail wildly, unravelling the blankets wrapped around him so carefully. Aragorn leapt forward, desperately forcing the edge of a blanket between Frodo's teeth and over his tongue, whilst trying to avoid being hit. Caught a hard blow on the shoulder by one of his master's hands, Sam fell backwards and sat, staring in helpless horror.
As quickly as it came, the convulsion ended and Legolas helped Aragorn roll Frodo on to his side, sliding one of the water bowls into place and holding his head as the hobbit began to vomit. When he had finished they waited a few minutes, wiping his face with a damp cloth and re-arranging the blankets.
Legolas winced. "That's the symptom I couldn't remember."
Aragorn raised one eyebrow, an expression that Legolas suspected he had picked up from his foster father. "I'm glad you finally remembered it."
Sam gathered himself. "What happened? Is he alright? Poor Mr Frodo."
Worried that Frodo may yet be sick, Aragorn was still holding the hobbit on his side, while Legolas continued to dab at Frodo's face with the cool cloth. Frodo's eyes were only half open and the iris' kept rolling upwards. Although Aragorn kept calling him gently, Frodo made only mumbled and incoherent responses and his face remained deathly pale.
"We need to get this antidote in to him but I'm not sure that he is capable of swallowing and whether he will keep it down." Sam could not remember when he had heard Strider so worried.
Legolas checked their patient's pulse. "If we do not try there will be other convulsions and I do not think his tiny body will take any more."
Aragorn collected the cup from where he had set it on the ground. "You are right, my friend. Can you hold his head up while I try?"
The elf turned Frodo on to his back, carefully supporting his head, so that Aragorn could feed him the medicine. In one way, Frodo's present condition was a blessing, thought Aragorn ruefully. The hobbit seemed totally unaware of the obnoxious smell and taste of the liquid that was being trickled into his mouth. His swallows were weak and slow but they managed to get it all down him and then they laid him back down on his side.
"All we can do now, Sam, is wait," said Aragorn and he settled down next to the gardener.
The rest of the fellowship shook themselves and began to set up camp, making the best use of what little cover they could find. The fire was doused and they had to make do with a cold supper, not that anyone had much of an appetite. Even Pippin ate only what was put in front of him, without asking for more.
There was little conversation and eyes kept straying to the small group at the other side of the dell. The woods of Lorien were but a distant grey smudge on the darkening horizon and all wished desperately that they were closer. Watches were set and the rest rolled themselves in blankets and tried to sleep although most did not attain it.
To everyone's intense relief the night passed uneventfully. Aragorn had awoken several times to check on his patient; giving the hobbit another dose of the medicine after the first hour. Unfortunately there was no abatement in Frodo's temperature and his pulse was still running at an alarming pace but there were no further convulsions.
Frodo did, finally, awaken with the quiet sounds of the rest of the fellowship breaking camp. With dawn they decided to risk a small fire and all were grateful for a cup of warm broth to start the day. Sam brought his master a mug but Frodo had only to smell it. He pushed himself on to his side and began retching, although by then there was nothing in his stomach but bile. Sam wrapped one arm around his Master's chest and slipped another under his brow as he waited for the awful heaving to stop.
Frodo leaned back bonelessly against Sam's chest, whimpering as each breath re-awakened the fire in his ribs. It was Boromir that scooped him up and carried him away from the mess and Merry that brought water and cloths to clean his cousin up, helping Sam to change the poor Hobbit's shirt and wipe his face and hands. Wordlessly, Pippin took Frodo's soiled shirt to a stream nearby and washed it as well as he could, wringing it out and hanging it from the back of his pack to dry.
It was difficult to see through the haze that seemed to swim before Frodo's eyes but he recognised Aragorn's face. He was pressing a cup to Frodo's lips and the hobbit recognised the clean scent of peppermint tea. He was not sure whether his stomach would even take that but allowed himself to be fed anyway, in the hopes that it would stop the nausea.
When they broke camp it was Aragorn who carried Frodo until they stopped, late in the morning. Sam was just making Frodo comfortable when Aragorn returned with bandages and warm water.
"Are you feeling any better, Frodo?"
"Hot..........Sam won't let me take........blankets off," replied Frodo, a little peevishly. "Dizzy if I move too fast."
Legolas had followed his friend. "The dizziness and fever are symptoms of the poisoning, I'm afraid."
Sam helped Frodo out of his shirt so that chest and back could be treated first. The cuts and abrasions were healing well and the bruises were turning an amazing kaleidoscope of black, purple, green and yellow. Aragorn bathed them once more, to be sure of preventing any infection, and then padded them with soft linen, held in place with a bandage.
"There is little I can do about the cracked ribs, I'm afraid, but I will give you something for the pain before we continue." Aragorn found his patient's silent acceptance more worrying than his previous stubbornness.
Supported by Sam's ever present hands, Frodo watched as the bandage around his leg was unwound. Aragorn soaked the pads covering the wounds, before gently peeling them back. The area around the holes was bruised but the wounds themselves were no longer bleeding and did not feel hot to the touch. Again, the healer bathed them with Athelas water and then covered them with fresh linen pads and bound them in place. That done, Frodo was wrapped comfortably in his blankets again and left to rest.
He was surprised to find that he had been dozing, when Aragorn shook him gently and made him take a couple of swallows of sweet liquid from a small earthenware bottle. The ranger smiled and pointed over his shoulder, to where Legolas stood, arms folded.
"Your carriage awaits you, master hobbit." Legolas gave his deepest courtly bow and, grinning widely, bent to lift Frodo into his arms. Frodo managed a weak smile. At least Legolas' gait was smoother than Boromir's.
The potion Aragorn had given Frodo dulled the pain and, combined with the gliding stride of the elf; lulled him into a drowsy haze. To his relief, the beautiful song returned, pulling him high above the pain and fever and wrapping him round with comfort.
The party stopped briefly to eat at mid day but Frodo could be persuaded to take nothing, other than a small cup of peppermint tea. He curled up on his uninjured side within the warmth of his blanket and cloak. The pain was growing again, however, and the longed for sleep would not come. He opened his eyes when he recognised Aragorn's footstep and the ranger settled on the ground before him. Although Frodo had not heard him approach, Legolas sat down next to his friend. With the feeling that he knew what was coming next, the hobbit struggled into a sitting position, the motion making him feel a little dizzy and forcing Aragorn to reach out a hand to steady him.
"I'm alright, Aragorn. I just sat up too quickly."
One eyebrow lifted, in an action that reminded Frodo strongly of Lord Elrond. "You should eat, Frodo. Sam has made this broth and will be offended if you do not at least try it."
Frodo eyed the liquid and found his stomach churning at the prospect of taking even the smallest swallow. He picked up the cup but as soon as he got it beneath his nose his stomach started to protest and he hastily thrust the cup back at the Ranger, doubling over and retching once more.
"Thank you," whispered the Ringbearer, as Boromir tucked his own heavy brocade, fur-lined cloak about the shivering hobbit.
Frodo closed his eyes against the mid day glare and tried to regain control of his belly. Aragorn had seen him pale as he picked up the cup and had caught him easily as he brought back the peppermint tea.
Once the heaving had stopped he had scooped up the gasping hobbit and set him down closer to their small fire, where Boromir had volunteered to care for him while Aragorn and Legolas conferred in hushed tones, watched by the rest of the hobbits and Gimli. Wary of the Steward's intentions, Sam came to sit with his master, returning Boromir's scowl with a challenging glare of his own. Normally a rather timid hobbit, however, he was somewhat relieved when the man was the first to break eye contact. Before the cloak swallowed Frodo Sam noted that his Master's hand rested against his chest, above the ring, clutching it even in his distress.
Boromir picked up the water canteen that the ranger had left and lifted the Ringbearer's head slightly, bringing the canteen to Frodo's mouth and trickling a little of the cool water between the hobbit's lips. Frodo swallowed, gratefully and sighed as he was lowered back into the soft warmth of the fur. Sam found himself a little surprised at the gentleness of the man's actions. He had always been rather wary of the soldier, as he had made no secret of his desire to use the ring.
When he considered their journey so far, however, Sam became uncomfortably aware of how much he took for granted the protection offered by Boromir's strong arm, and shield. In every battle they had encountered so far the steward had unwaveringly placed himself between the danger and any or all of the hobbits, even to the point of picking up and carrying a distraught Frodo from the Mines of Moria after Gandalf had fallen.
Sam felt tears prickling his eyes as he thought of the old wizard and clenched his jaw to stop a quiver that threatened his bottom lip. How he missed the old man's presence. Strider was a good man but he was a soldier and he lacked Gandalf's comfortable manner.
Aragorn rummaged in his pack, searching for the healer's kit that Elrond had carefully prepared for him, putting in extra items that he considered suitable for treating the smaller hobbits. The box had slipped to the bottom of his pack but its shape was easy to find by touch alone. Legolas waited at his shoulder.
"The carebnesta is not working, is it?"
Aragorn shook his head. "No. The fever is as strong as ever and the constant nausea worries me. Fortunately, he seems to be able to keep water down but his body needs more than water. I think, perhaps, we made the dose too small in our worry not to overdose him. It may have done some good, however. There has been no reoccurrence of the convulsions."
The Elf shuddered. "I don't remember much of my own experience I'm afraid. The healers had dosed me heavily with sleeping droughts. I was rather unwell for quite a while, that much I do remember. It could be that it simply takes longer to work in a hobbit." He did not sound convinced.
Aragorn continued sorting through the contents of his box. "You were safe at home too. Here we have no time to let his body rest. Even though we are not asking him to walk he cannot rest properly, being constantly jostled."
Aragorn found the bag he had been looking for and pulled out some slivers of ginger root. Returning to the fire, where Pippin and Merry were willing a pot of water to boil, he handed the pieces to the younger of the two. "When the water has boiled, make a cup of tea from this and take it to Frodo. Add a pinch of salt and a large spoonful of honey and try to get him to drink it all if you can."
Frodo was lying curled warmly in Boromir's cloak. His eyes were closed and he seemed to have a little more colour in his cheeks. Aragorn knelt down and felt for a pulse. At his touch Frodo's eyelids fluttered open and blue eyes tried to blink into focus. The ranger smiled. "Feeling a little better?"
"Yes. A little. I'm sorry I'm such a nuisance."
"Do you think you can cope with being moved again? If we travel through the afternoon we can shelter in the eves of Lorien tonight. It will be safer than being out in the open."
Frodo nodded. "I think so."
Aragorn knew that the Hobbit probably wanted nothing more than to lie still, for the constant motion was most unpleasant for someone feeling sick and dizzy. Whilst it now seemed unlikely that Frodo would die from the poison, if he did not rest and take in more fluids the nausea and fever would eventually weaken him and could result in his death.
"Pippin will bring you some ginger tea in a moment. It will help to settle your stomach."
Frodo's eyes widened. "I don't think I can, Aragorn," he whimpered.
The Ranger pushed a stray tendril of hair behind Frodo's ear. "Please try it Frodo. You must take in more fluids or your body will not have the strength to fight the poison."
Frodo closed his eyes and nodded.
When they had put out the fire and hidden all traces of it Aragorn returned to carry Frodo.
"I am your charger for the rest of the day, if you will have me."
Feeling a little recovered from the rest and the tea, Frodo smiled. The ranger picked him up, cradling him against his chest with an arm around his shoulders and the other beneath his knees. Aside from a little pain at being moved, Frodo found the position comfortable and rested his head gratefully against the man's shoulder. He noticed Boromir take up his pack and Legolas carrying Aragorn's.
They moved at a steady pace and at first Frodo felt well enough but as time wore on his fever began to reassert itself and he found it difficult to concentrate on what was going on around him. It was strange that he seemed to swing from feeling very groggy and sleepy one minute to feeling hyper alert and aware of every slight sound the next. In addition there were terrifying bouts of vertigo that made him gasp and cling to Aragorn, begging him to stand still until they passed.
They stopped for a cold meal although Frodo was in one of his groggy phases and it took Sam quite a while to get him to finish a cup of water. Not daring to build a fire they could give him little else for it would be sheer folly to try and get him to digest solid food. Aragorn satisfied himself that the dressings on his patient's leg did not need changing yet then ordered them to break camp and resume their march for the trees.
Legolas was in the lead and Aragorn, with Frodo, brought up the rear. Gimli dropped back to walk with him, as the ranger would be hard pressed to protect them with the hobbit in his arms. Conversation had died with the gathering dark but at length Gimli spoke.
"Not a sound but the wind," he said. "There are no goblins near, or my ears are made of wood. It is to be hoped that the orcs will be content with driving us from Moria. And maybe that was all there purpose, and they had nothing else to do with us - with the Ring."
Aragorn did not answer but Frodo was uneasy. His ears were overly sensitive at the moment and he thought he heard the same quick patter of feet that he had caught in Moria. He shifted to peek over Aragorn's shoulder. For a moment he thought he saw two gleams of light, like luminous eyes and then they turned aside and were gone. Aragorn turned to look behind him when he felt Frodo move.
"What is it, Frodo?"
"I don't know," replied the hobbit. "I thought I heard feet, and saw a light - like eyes."
Gimli halted and stooped to the ground. "I hear nothing but the night-speech of plant and stone," he said.
Aragorn stood, peering into the gathering gloom for a moment longer, worried that hallucinations may be a new symptom of Frodo's illness. "I see nothing, Frodo." He glanced back over his shoulder. "Come Gimli. The others are already out of sight." With that he turned and strode off at a pace that forced the dwarf into a trot to keep up.
With the fall of night a chill breeze arose and Frodo was glad of the shelter of Boromir's cloak. He felt a little guilty that the steward had nothing to protect him from the night air but the man seemed wrapped in his thoughts instead and unaware of the cold. As the road entered the shadow of the trees they discovered the reason for his unease and it took all of Aragorn's powers of persuasion to get him to enter the wood.
Whilst Frodo and the other hobbits were willing to trust Aragorn's judgement on the matter, they could not help but be disturbed by Boromir's comments about the perilous nature of the realm they were about to enter, and the dire warnings of his people about the Lady of the Wood, who reigned there. Gimli, too, seemed to suffer a reawakening of his old dislike of all things elven. Aragorn and Legolas, however, seemed to draw renewed strength from the very air and the elf almost danced with delight, as he touched the silken bark of the trees and skipped lightly through the cold, swift flowing streams.
Frodo, for his part, was glad that he was carried through the icy waters for he could hear his friends complain that it was turning their toes blue. As they came within the shadow of the first trees the song that he thought had deserted him returned, clearer and stronger than before. "Aragorn. Do you hear it?"
The Ranger glanced down at his charge. "Do you hear the footsteps again, Frodo?"
The hobbit shook his head. "No, no. The singing. Don't you hear the singing?"
Aragorn's face grew worried. "I hear no singing, unless it is the melody of the stream and the wind in the leaves." His healer's eyes searched Frodo, noting the pink spots of colour on the cheeks of his otherwise pale face and the perspiration sticking the curls of his fringe to his forehead. "We will stop and rest for a little while, I think."
Over a cold supper, eaten by a stream that Legolas named as Nimrodel, the elf sang of the ancient history of the place. The Wood Elf's song swept through Frodo, blending in perfect harmony with the melody already lilting in his mind, pushing away the pain and discomfort but as night drew on Frodo began to feel very weary.
He had elected to sit up, although he was starting to regret his stubbornness. His chest was hurting and his leg was beginning to throb again. In addition the nausea and dizziness was getting worse as he grew more tired and his head was aching. Sam came to sit next to his master, placing an arm around his waist and drawing Frodo to lean against his shoulder, a little worried when his friend did not resist. Sam's action was not missed by the keen eyed Ranger and he brought his pack with him as he settled down before the two hobbits.
"I will just check on that leg, Frodo." He brought out his box and a small bag of linen pieces. As he worked, smearing on some salve and redressing the leg, he enquired further. "Does your side hurt?"
"A little," came the quiet reply.
Aragorn suspected that if Frodo had his arm half amputated from his body he would say it only hurt "a little". The ranger continued bandaging. "And your stomach? You have not eaten."
"I am still a little queasy and dizzy and the headache is back."
That Frodo was willing to admit so much told Aragorn that the hobbit was, in fact, in more that a little discomfort. Sam reached across and placed a finger on the knot as Aragorn finished tying off the bandage on Frodo's leg. The Ranger rearranged bottles and tins and finally produced a small earthenware bottle. He read the label and then poured a little into Frodo's cup.
"Drink this. It will ease the headache and the other pains." Frodo swallowed the liquid without protest, surprised at its pleasant taste.
The rest of the fellowship was listening to a conversation between Gimli and Legolas. Aragorn was pleased to note that, for once, it had not deteriorated into bickering. The elf's quiet voice sounded almost a part of the whisper of the leaves around them.
"......they were called the Galadhrim, the Tree-people. Deep in their forest the trees are very great. The people of the woods did not delve in the ground like Dwarves, nor build strong places of stone before the Shadow came."
"And even in these latter days dwelling in the trees might be thought safer than sitting on the ground," said Gimli. He looked across the stream to the road that led back to Dimrill Dale, and then up into the roof of dark boughs above.
"Your words bring good counsel, Gimli," said Aragorn, replacing the contents of his pack. "We cannot build a house, but tonight we will do as the Galadhrim and seek refuge in the tree-tops, if we can. We have sat here beside the road already longer than was wise."
It was Boromir, once more, who carried Frodo as they moved deeper into the woods. Already, the drought Aragorn had given the Hobbit was beginning to take effect. Too late he recognised the taste. Elrond had dosed him with it several times during their stay in Rivendell, usually when Frodo had tried to do too much too soon. It was a strong sedative and Frodo knew that fighting it was useless. He closed his eyes and trusted himself to the care of his companions again as he was drawn down into a deep sleep, rocked gently in a song of silver boughed trees and wrapped about in drifts of golden leaves.
Late in the night he awoke in some confusion. Stars glinted above him, through a pale roof of quivering leaves, which seemed impossibly close. He sat up, carefully, fighting a bout of dizziness, and looked around. Sam, Pippin and Merry lay asleep around him, wrapped in strange furs and blankets. They were lying on a wooden floor, which appeared to be very high in a tree. Frodo was alarmed to note that there were no walls, apart from a light plaited screen at one side, unless one counted the walls of living leaves whispering around them.
How the hobbits had come there he could not imagine, nor why there was no sign of the others of the Fellowship. That his friends were apparently sleeping peacefully seemed to indicate that they were in no danger, unless one counted the one of rolling over in one's sleep and falling off the high wooden platform.
Suddenly, a little way off he heard a harsh laugh and the tread of many feet on the ground below. There was a ring of metal. The sounds died slowly away, and seemed to go southward, on into the wood.
A head appeared suddenly through the hole in the flet. Frodo shrank back in alarm and saw that it was a grey-hooded Elf. He looked towards the hobbits.
"What is it?" said Frodo.
"Yrch!" said the Elf in a hissing whisper, and cast on to the flet the rope-ladder rolled up.
"Orcs!" said Frodo. "What are they doing?" But the Elf had gone.
He drew out Sting, from where it had been pushed, into his pack: it flashed and glittered like a blue flame; and then slowly faded again and grew dull. In spite of the fading of his sword the feeling of immediate danger did not leave Frodo, rather it grew stronger. He crawled to the opening and peered down. He was almost certain that he could hear stealthy movements at the tree's foot far below.
Gollum? Frodo heard a snuffling sound and then he saw those pale luminous eyes, only a few feet below him, close to the trunk of the tree. Suddenly they winked out and Frodo jumped back as the elf reappeared only inches from the hobbit's face. He clambered up on to the flet. "Did you see it?"
"I think so," replied Frodo, cautiously, unwilling to reveal too much of their quest to this stranger.
The elf stepped to the edge of the platform and peered down. "I have never seen its like before. It was not an orc; and those eyes." His voice trailed off.
Frodo drew Boromir's cloak closer about him as the excitement wore off and his body started to shake. He decided it was time to try and make sense of his present situation. "I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage. Where am I, how did I get here and where is the rest of our company?"
The Elf turned back and sat down, cross legged, in front of the confused hobbit. "My apologies, Master Frodo. You were quite deeply asleep when my brothers and I met your company." He bowed his head slightly and placed a hand over his heart in what appeared to be a sign of greeting. "My name is Haldir and I am one of the guardians of the borders of Lorien. The rest of your company is in a tree, yonder." He waved in a vague way to Frodo's left. "It will be my duty to escort you all, at first light, to the Lord and Lady of the Wood."
The hobbit shivered, remembering Boromir's fears about the Lady of the Golden Wood. Noting his slight movement again and the sheen of perspiration that was starting to gather on the hobbit's brow, Haldir felt about his waist and pulled out a small bottle. "The man, Aragorn, said that you should take some more of this if you awoke during the night."
Frodo held out his hand and the elf dropped the bottle in to it. "Two mouthfuls," the elf added. Swallowing the dose advised, Frodo replaced the stopper and handed it back to the guardian.
"Thank you, Haldir." He settled down, feeling his body relax as it returned to a horizontal position, and tried to compose himself for sleep again. "Will the orcs return?"
Haldir chuckled, "Nay, Master Hobbit. My brothers are leading them a merry dance in the opposite direction of our journey, even as we speak. You can sleep secure."
Though he could not have said why, Frodo felt he could trust this grey cloaked Elf and he let his eyes close.
The next day their journey through the wood continued, escorted now by Haldir and his brothers, Rumil and Orophin. Frodo accepted only a cup of water whilst the others ate breakfast. The ranger decided to let the lack of appetite pass for the time being but before they started out for the day he replaced the dressings on his friend's leg.
He was worried when he touched him for the fever seemed to be getting worse. He tried talking to the Hobbit but Frodo appeared to have trouble understanding or hearing him and, unlike the previous day, he did not have the energy to sit up unaided. Aragorn began to fear that if Frodo did not get some proper rest soon he would be in serious trouble but decided that the only thing he could do for him at the moment was to help him take what rest he could, so he gave him another dose of the sedative.
The greater part of the last day of their journey was undertaken blindfolded and here, even Frodo had not been exempted. Orophin had carried him, however, for fear that if a member of the Fellowship carried him they may trip and injure him yet further. The elf's touch was so light that, at first, Frodo was afraid that he would be dropped but as the time wore on he began to feel more secure. Like Legolas, Orophin's gait was very smooth and the hobbit found himself drifting in and out of sleep, even after the sedative wore off; the blindfold actually helping him as it kept the bright light of the sun from his aching eyes.
Unwilling to unbind their eyes even to see to the ailing hobbit, Frodo's care was passed to the Lorien elves for a time. When they stopped to rest it was Rumil that cleaned and dressed the Ringbearer's leg. If the hobbit had thought Aragorn's touch was gentle he found Rumils' feather light. Orophin took Frodo's head between cool hands, while his brother worked and the hobbit felt, once more, the touch of an elven mind pouring comfort into his fevered body.
His various pains receded a little and there was some relief from the constant swing between shivering chill and burning heat. The vertigo would not fade however, seeming instead to attack him more frequently and his friends could only listen helplessly as he cried out for them to stop and then whimpered piteously while the dizziness caught him up and swept him around.
He was offered food but his stomach churned unpleasantly at the suggestion and, seeing him blanch, they trickled a few drops of cool liquid between his cracked lips instead. Frodo recognised the clean refreshing taste of Miruvir. As it had done on the road to Rivendell, it strengthened him a little and settled his cramping stomach. Even this tender care was not sufficient, however, and when everyone's blindfolds were finally removed Aragorn, noting his growing distress, dosed him with sedative again. For the last leg of their journey he was mercifully oblivious.
He was rocked gently by a soft voice that seemed to drift around and through him; soothing wherever it touched. He could not understand the words of her song but Frodo had not the strength to worry about it. He only accepted gratefully the warmth that bathed his soul in comforting music. He seemed to float in a misty dream world, aware that somewhere below him pain lay waiting, but the melody held him aloft, cradling him like a babe in mother's arms, safe and secure from it.
Frodo could not tell whether she had been singing to him for only minutes of for hours but, slowly, he found himself being lowered back into the world of discomfort and cares. His heart cried out, trying to flee back to the peaceful harmony of the song but, with a final long note, he was released.
He was warm. Pleasantly warm: not the burning heat of fever. There was a distant but tolerable ache in his leg and a feeling of tenderness in his chest, but the cramps in his stomach were gone and his body felt relaxed and rested. Frodo sighed and shifted a little.
"Mr Frodo? Frodo? Are you awake?" Sam's voice, somewhere close by. "Can you open your eyes?"
Frodo resisted the action for a moment, fearfull that he would open his eyes and find that the present comfort was all a dream and the pain and dizziness would come rushing back in again.
"Come on now, Master. They said you should drink this as soon as you woke up. Won't you open your eyes for your Sam?" Frodo felt gentle fingers stroking the sensitive skin beneath his eye and knew that his friend would not be denied when he had his mind set to a task.
Opening his eyes, he tried to blink the world in to focus. It took him a moment to realise that he was staring at embroidered cloth, high above him. Strong sunlight was filtered through the thick dark fabric, soothing to his dry eyes.
"There now, Mr Frodo. I knew you could do it. Let me just help you up a bit and you can drink this."
Sam's face hovered above him and Frodo felt a hand beneath his head, raising him just enough to reach the small cup that his friend brought to his lips. The liquid was cool and sweet, with a slightly sharp edge; refreshing to the dry tissues of his mouth and throat and settling gently on his stomach, from where it sent tendrils of relief to every fibre of his body. The remaining aches and pains faded and Frodo sighed again as Sam lowered his head back onto the fluffy pillows, tucking soft woollen blankets closely about his shoulders.
The Ringbearer turned his head to try and find the owner of the beautiful song. He was lying on a soft feather mattress in the corner of a large, finely appointed pavilion. Other mattresses were laid about the carpeted floor and in a corner he could see an assortment of gear that he recognised as belonging to members of the Fellowship, but he and Sam were alone. The song had faded but in its place was the soft whisper of a thousand leaves, stirred in a gentle breeze and the dancing splash of a fountain that Frodo could see just beyond the entrance to the pavilion. His eyes returned to Sam, who was sitting quietly watching him reacquaint himself with the world.
"Where did the Lady go?"
"What Lady, Mr Frodo? There was an Elf. They said he was a healer but there weren't no Lady. It was him that left the medicine for you."
Sam frowned and reached out to lay a hand on his master's brow, checking for signs of any lingering fever. He was relieved to find the skin dry and comfortably warm but he was still worried that his Master seemed to be rambling a little.
"Perhaps I only dreamed her. She sang to me and it felt so good, Sam. Like floating in a lake of warm water. I didn't want to wake up."
His friend smiled. "Well, this is a place for dreaming, and no mistake. We've been here three days, I think, but it's difficult to tell the difference between sleeping and waking. It's like being in the middle of the nicest dream you've ever had - if you take my meaning, Master. Maybe you were just having a nice dream. Goodness knows but you deserve one after all those nightmares you've been having. I've watched you tossing all the while you had that fever and it nearly tore me up."
Frodo saw the glisten of tears threatening to spill from his friends eyes and pulled a hand out from his blankets to rest on Sam's arm.
"Maybe you're right Sam. I do feel a lot better now." Something Sam had said suddenly registered. "Did you say we have been here three days?"
Sam laughed. "Bless you, yes, Mr Frodo. You were sleeping when we arrived and, to be honest, I think we all must have slept a full day after we got here. We were that tired. You were handed over to the healer straight away and it was him and Strider that's been looking after you. Your fever broke yesterday and you've been sleeping very deeply ever since."
Frodo tried to bring some memory to the surface but there was only the soft melody of the Lady. He was surprised by a yawn and found that his eyelids were beginning to droop. Sam chuckled when he saw Frodo trying to stifle a second yawn.
"They said as how you'd be a bit tired yet. Why don't you go back to sleep. I'll be here if you need me."
"Thank you. I think I will just take a little nap." With that, Frodo closed his eyes and let the soft murmur of the trees lull him back to sleep.
When next he awoke it was to the sound of quiet conversation and the smell of warm bread. Daylight filtered through the embroidered canopy and all about him the other members of the Fellowship were rising from their beds and dressing. It was Pippin who first noticed that his cousin's eyes were open. He paused in fastening his shirt and grinned down at Frodo.
"Hello. I was hoping you weren't going to wake up and I could have your share of breakfast again." Merry joined his cousin, cuffing him lightly on the ear.
"Honestly, Pip. I'd have thought you were full to overflowing by now, the amount of food you've eaten since we got here. I'd swear you had hollow legs."
Frodo laughed and made to sit up, noticing for the first time, that he had been dressed in an overly embroidered and slightly too large silk nightshirt. Merry immediately reached down to help him, arranging the cushions and pillows so that he could lean back comfortably. Just then Sam appeared with a covered tray.
"Good morning, Mr Frodo. What do you say to a little breakfast? I've got fresh bread with a fruit conserve, and mushrooms in an omelette so light it's like to float away if you don't eat it fast." He set the tray down on Frodo's lap and whisked away the covering cloth. Frodo's stomach answered for him, letting out a long, anticipatory growl.
Pippin giggled. "I think that was, "Yes please."
"Pip! Come on and get your own breakfast and leave Frodo to enjoy his in peace. If I get to the table before you I shall be eating your share, for a change," threatened Merry as he pushed his younger cousin towards the entrance.
As he made to follow, Merry suddenly leant down and gave Frodo a big hug. "It's so good to see you well, Frodo." Then he straightened and ran after Pippin before Frodo had a chance to reply. Sam noticed Merry wipe his eyes on his sleeve as he left.
Boromir and Gimli left a little later, after first stopping by to say good morning. Of Legolas and Aragorn there was no sign.
The breakfast lived up to Sam's description. The omelette was as light as air and the bread was soft and white. Sam kept up a steady stream of light talk as he watched his master eat, describing the wonderful world they had been brought to and encouraging Frodo to take, "just a little more" whenever he looked as though he was going to stop eating.
When he finally managed to convince his friend that he could not eat another bite, Frodo had eaten the entire omelette and two of the little bread buns with some wild strawberry conserve. Secretly, Sam did not consider it enough for a hobbit but he decided not to confront his Master's stubborn streak just yet.
Over the rest of the morning the other members of the Fellowship drifted in to talk with the Ringbearer, in one's and two's. Sam always hovered somewhere in the background and had a knack of seeing when his Master was beginning to tire, at which point he would find some excuse to shoo them away.
By the entrance, Pippin was actually beginning to enjoy counting the different reasons Sam found. Of course, nobody was fooled, but they all played along, thankful that Frodo was so much better already and willing to co-operate with anyone helping to bring him back to full health. Although his eyes had not yet regained their sparkle and were set in dark circles, the colour was returning to Frodo's cheek and lips. His voice was a little weak but Pippin was pleased to hear his cousin laugh at one of Gimli's dreadful jokes. It was a sound that the young hobbit had thought he may never hear again and he had to turn away so that Frodo could not see the tears rolling down his face.
Merry had been watching his cousin carefully and drew Pippin away within the circle of his arm, holding him close when the younger hobbit finally broke down. Merry had begun to worry at the wisdom of Pippin being a part of their fellowship. He had been almost inconsolable outside Moria, after Gandalf had.......fallen. Merry found that he still could not use the word, "died". To have Frodo so desperately ill, so soon afterwards, was almost more than any of them could bear and Merry had done his own weeping earlier that morning.
Pippin was too young to be subjected to such pain. Yet he had borne it like an adult and had even been able to give support to his companions in the darkness of their own despair. So bright a spirit had he that even the silent Boromir could not ignore him for long: the man's deep chuckle intertwined with the hobbit's light giggle, as Pippin regaled him with one of his exaggerated stories of the doings of his many relations in Tuckborough. Sitting amongst the roots of one of Lothlorien's huge trees, Pippin sobbing in his arms, Merry could not imagine going on without him and hugged his cousin close, offering what comfort he could.
At lunch time Aragorn and Legolas returned, with the healer. When Legolas saw his companion sitting up in bed, he broke in to a smile that Sam was sure would have put the sun to shame, his brilliant green eyes shining like emeralds. Even Aragorn's dour face lit up at the sight. The healer having changed the dressings on Frodo's leg and departed, Elf and Man sat with their friend for a little while; reassembling for him the pieces of the past few days.
When lunch was served there was a lot of light hearted bargaining between Frodo and Aragorn, which resulted in the hobbit being allowed to eat at table with the rest of the Fellowship, under the proviso that he was carried there and back by Aragorn and then took some more rest.
It seemed to Frodo that the very air in Lothlorien brought healing to his body and soul. After lunch he was returned to his bed, where he slept long and deep, awaking refreshed just as the very rim of the sun dipped beyond the horizon. To his surprise, Sam was waiting to help him bathe and dress.
His clothes had been cleaned and a new pair of breaches, in the softest black fabric provided, along with a simple, but perfectly proportioned, walking cane. Frodo tried to question his friend but Sam just looked flustered.
"Strider said I was to help get you ready. That's all I know, Mr Frodo. He says we're goin' to meet someone." Sam helped him on with his jacket and handed Frodo his stick. "I reckon it's that Lady they've all been on about," he added in a conspiratorial tone.
Even with the stick and Sam's help, Frodo found the walk to the entrance of the pavilion quite difficult for his leg was stiff and his ribs still ached. He was not too upset, therefore, when Aragorn offered to carry him to their destination, especially when he saw the long staircase winding up the huge tree before them. Frodo tried to memorise every step of that journey.
The trees about him were huge and tall beyond belief, their smooth bark shining silver in the moonlight filtered through a thousand leaves. Between their branches the deep blue of the sky was thickly scattered with brilliant stars about a huge mithril moon. The staircase they trod was carved from pale wood, its intricate arching roof hung, here and there, with finely engraved glass lanterns set with the soft light of candles; their honeyed scent blending with the lighter perfume of night blooming flowers and the underlying musk of rich, leaf strewn, loam.
Soft elven voices blended with the rustle and whisper of leaves and the splash of running water in a delicate harmony that drew them upwards, their feet hardly seeming to touch the steps. The hobbits did not like heights and yet there was no fear in this climb. It was as though the song caught them and held them safe, spiralling them higher and higher within its melody.
At a great height above the ground they came to a wide talan, like the deck of a great ship. On it was built a house, so large that almost it would have served for a hall of Men upon the earth. They entered behind Haldir, and found that they were in a chamber of oval shape, in the midst of which grew the trunk of the great mallorn tree that they had been climbing.
The chamber was filled with soft light: its walls were green and silver and its roof of gold. On two chairs at the bole of the tree sat Celeborn and Galadriel. Aragorn set Frodo down and the Fellowship waited, in awe. The Lord and Lady stood and they were very tall, both grave and beautiful. They were clad wholly in white; and the hair of the Lady was of deep gold, and the hair of the Lord Celborn was of silver long and bright; but no sign of age was upon them, unless it were in the depths of their eyes; for these were keen as lances in the starlight, and yet profound, the wells of deep memory.
Each member of the company was led forward to the Lord, who welcomed them, and bade them sit. The Lady Galadriel remained silent, but looked long upon each face. When all had been greeted and offered a chair the Lord looked on them again.
"Here there are eight," he said. "Nine were set out: so said the messages. But maybe there has been some change of council that we have not heard. Elrond is far away, and darkness gathers between us, and all this year the shadows have grown longer."
"There was no change of council," said the Lady Galadriel," speaking for the first time. Frodo's eyes widened at the sound of her voice, clear and musical, but deeper than a woman's wont. Her eyes fell on him and it seemed to Frodo that a song rose in his heart once more, enfolding him in love and hope, healing and strength. "He has fallen in to shadow."
Celeborn questioned them long but Frodo let others tell the tale. He had eyes only for the Lady Galadriel. Even now, if he closed his eyes, he could hear the faint melody of her soul. Here was the voice that had sustained him on the long road from Moria. Within, he heard her ancient song once more, edged with great sadness and regret.
When the tale was done the Lady held each with her eyes once more. "Your Quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all. Yet hope remains while all the Company is true." None could withstand her gaze for long, save Legolas and Aragorn. When she reached Frodo he heard her voice, once more, within his mind. So strong was it that he would have fallen if Aragorn had not caught his shoulder.
Even as he heard her, Frodo was aware that Lord Celeborn was speaking, "Go now. You are worn with sorrow and much toil. Even if your Quest did not concern us closely, you should have refuge in this City, until you were healed and refreshed. Now you shall rest, and we shall not speak of your further road for a while."
Yet, within his mind, Galadriel's voice gave portent for him, alone. "Long have I waited to greet the owner of such a strong and pure song as I have heard set firm within your heart. You were well chosen. Almost, it would seem that it was appointed for you at the moment of your birth; each event within your life a different chord to draw the music to this point. This Quest will change your melody and yet it will, forever, be a thing of beauty, woven deep within the symphony of this world. Welcome, indeed................Ringbearer."
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