West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
Aragorn discovers that the Ringbearer has a delicate problem
"By the pestilential fires of Mount Doom," Aragorn, the King Elessar swore beneath his breath as the muted voices in the corridor outside his chamber door became increasingly strident. "What can be the matter now?"
The Haradrim delegation would depart on the morrow, after many days of consultations and wrangling for advantage of position. They had come to the negotiating table and had been as amenable as that proud and choleric people could ever be. A lasting accord had been achieved between Harad and Gondor, and the feast of celebration had gone on for weary hours before it had ended, near the middle of the night.
Aragorn, grateful to have the feast end, had made his way with his beautiful Queen, Arwen Undomiel, to the royal apartment, where he had laid aside the heavy crown and allowed his attendants to divest him of his mantle, his mail, swordbelt, overtunic and boots. He stood now in his trousers and long, flowing blue silk shirt, soft slippers on his kingly feet, his royal hair rumpled, and stared in consternation as a timid knock came at his chamber door.
The Queen who had been attended by her ladies, who had then been dismissed, sat up in their great, canopied bed, reclining slightly against a mound of lace-trimmed pillows. She was a vision in white silk, her sable hair loose and glistening in the candlelight, a rueful half-smile on her lovely face.
"Tell them to wait until the morning," she said in her sweet, low voice. "You are sorely in need of rest, husband."
Aragorn was prepared to follow that suggestion. His attendants scattered before him as he stalked with his long, Ranger's strides to fling open the great, ornately carved door, opening his mouth to utter a regal command that would render his impertinent visitor speechless with awe.
The door guards stood dithering without, one even wringing his hands, and Aragorn instantly understood. One of the Ringbearers had come seeking him, and the poor guards, unwilling to disturb their King, or to deny anything to this most honored of his subjects, had vacillated until the visitor had taken matters into his own small, brown hands.
"Samwise?" Aragorn's brief anger had vanished. His voice revealed only concern as he bent to speak to his small friend. "What has happened? Is there some trouble?"
Sam's round face was wrung by anxiety, his clothing in disarray, his clear hazel eyes raised to the King's face with trust and fear, but with the forthright determination that had supported Frodo through every step on their long journey.
"Beggin' your pardon, sir, King Elessar, I ain't sure, but I do think summat's wrong with Mr. Frodo. He's locked his door. He's mutterin' and I heard him cry out. I know he's needin' care, but he won't let me in."
Aragorn cast one regretful glance backward toward his bed and his wife, who looked back at him with sympathy and perhaps with a trace of humor in her grey eyes.
"You must go and attend the Ringbearer, my Lord," she said. "You know how fragile he is of late."
Aragorn turned away, smothering the words that rose to his lips. "Frodo Baggins, fragile? He's as fragile as the iron that comes from the forge fire."
"Let us go and see, Sam," he said, and accompanied Sam, shortening his own long steps to accommodate the hobbit's much shorter legs. He was followed by one of his attendants, who scurried in his wake along the marble-floored corridor that led from the King's chambers to the smaller apartment which had been appointed to the Ringbearer. Frodo had been confined there during his battle with a lingering chest ailment that had left him weak and tired for several days after the worst of his symptoms had faded.
Sam stopped before the door to Frodo's room and looked up at Aragorn, eyebrows raised, face drawn in lines of anxiety and hope.
"D'ye hear?" he whispered.
Aragorn waved his attendant away impatiently as the man tried to help him into his dressing gown. He leaned closer to the door, listening intently for any sound from within. After a few seconds, he heard it.
Frodo was mumbling in a low, furious voice, his words indistinguishable, but his tone quite clear. The Ringbearer was so angry he was all-but spitting. He uttered a word that Aragorn heard clearly, and the King's jaw sagged. He would never have believed such a word would pass the oh-so-proper lips of that particular hobbit. Pippin, perhaps, Merry certainly, but never Frodo. He was also sure that he heard a distinct sob, and alarm convinced him that he must intervene.
He knocked on the door and called, "Frodo, will you open the door? I wish to speak with you."
Silence. Sam fidgeted. Then came a clear answer from within the room.
"I am just ready to retire, Aragorn. Can we not speak tomorrow?"
I think it is necessary that we speak now, Frodo. Open the door, please."
More silence. Aragorn took a deep breath, marshaling his patience, loathe to place additional duress upon the hobbit, but reluctant to risk the chance that he might have fallen ill again.
Sam gave him an imploring look. "Please, Strider, you got to do summat."
And so, though he bitterly regretted having to do so, Aragorn summoned his most imperious voice and manner and knocked with more force.
"Frodo Baggins, I am your King, and I command you to open this door."
After a long pause, the latch was withdrawn and the lock clicked, but the door remained closed until Aragorn himself opened it. Frodo gave Sam one look, his huge blue eyes filled with reproach, then turned and strode across the room to the bedside, where he turned and faced Aragorn with defiance, arms crossed over his chest.
Aragorn stepped into the room, noting with approval that it was warm and well-lit and had been thoroughly cleaned that day. It was neat and tidy. Not so the Ringbearer.
He had seen Frodo in conditions on their journey that had precluded all but the most cursory of cleansing, and even then Frodo had contrived to keep his hair ordered, his clothing straightened and the luxuriant curls that adorned his feet combed. Only after Mordor and Mount Doom, only after the rescue by the eagles, had Frodo been so bedraggled, wounded, and filthy as to be all but unrecognizable. Even during his recent confinement to the sickroom, Frodo had insisted that his personal grooming be attended when he was unable to do it for himself.
To see him as was now, his hair wildly tangled, sticking up every which way, the marks of his fingernails on his skin showing red and raw, his foothair as disheveled as the hair upon his head, was shocking. The misery that wrenched the small face as Frodo whimpered and began to scratch desperately at his scalp, then at his left shin, raising his foot to do so, wrung Aragorn's heart.
"My friend," Aragorn said, approaching the frantically scratching hobbit slowly, peering at him as he tried to discern the cause of his distress. "What afflicts you?"
Frodo pressed his lips together, still busily scratching here and there, disarranging his clothing, his maimed hand digging at his scalp while the other crept toward the waistband of his breeches. He struggled visibly to restrain that hand and pressed it against his thigh, fist clenched.
Sam also approached, hesitant but desperate to aid his master. "Mr. Frodo, won't you tell us what we can do to help you?"
"You must tell us, Frodo," Aragorn added firmly. "What is it that causes this distress?"
Frodo's hand again crept toward the waist of his breeches and again he forced it back and down to his side. He looked at Aragorn with eyes of tragedy and whispered, "I am infested, Aragorn."
"Infested? By what?"
Frodo put his maimed hand down too, but he twitched and quivered and tears welled up in his eyes. He turned his face away, clearly too humiliated to face Aragorn.
"I visited the stables today," he said, his voice low and quavering. "The stablemaster had invited me, you see, over a week ago, to view the royal horses, but I became ill and could not go. Today I felt much better. Everyone else was off doing other things, and I was not required to be anywhere and so I determined to go to the stables."
Sam frowned and started to speak, probably to urge his master to get on with it, but Aragorn warned him to silence with a slight head shake. It was better to let the Ringbearer proceed at his own pace, or he was likely to go silent and the Baggins stubbornness come into full play.
"And did you enjoy your visit?" Aragorn asked after a pause.
"Yes, it was ever so nice to do something simple and just because I wanted to do it and to have no one expecting things of me. The stablemaster was quite nice to me and he was eager to have me see his hounds and so of course I said I would love to. One of the female dogs had whelped just six weeks past, and had a litter of twelve. They were all nestled in a large pen in a corner of the stable, and all his children were with them, five dear little ones, all tumbling and playing with the pups. I went in with them and sat down and held one of the pups and told the children a story."
"That was kind of you," Aragorn ventured.
"Perhaps it was. But it was ever so nice for me as well," Frodo said. "It was such a quiet, gentle hour, and I enjoyed it so, and then afterward I came back to the great dining hall and had dinner and then I was tired and lay down for a nap. And I was awakened by the most intense itching I have ever felt and discovered that I had become infested." He paused, eyes squeezed shut as he fought for control. "With parasites of some sort, and they bite," he finished miserably.
Sam simply stared at him, open mouthed and plainly at a loss.
"Lice from dogs do not infest Men," Aragorn said. "They do not like the taste of Mens' blood."
Frodo raised his head and glared at him. "Apparently that does not hold true for hobbits," he said. "For they have been feasting merrily upon my blood for the past four hours, and they are driving me mad."
Aragorn struggled mightily to withhold his mirth, but lost the battle. Pitiful as Frodo looked, overcome with shame and wretchedness as he plainly was, the situation was too rife with humor for Aragorn to restrain a guffaw and he surrendered to it, laughing while Frodo glowered and Sam tutted and shook his head and looked at Aragorn as though fearing he had lost his wits.
"I am sorry, Frodo," Aragorn said contritely, when he was able to control himself. "This is no laughing matter to you, I know. But we can cure your infestation with a simple treatment, and I have it in store, close at hand."
Frodo gave up his fight with the itching and began to scratch again, and this time he did not attempt to stop his hand from plunging beneath the waistband of his breeches, where it grappled feverishly with the pests that had infested the curls that nestled his privates.
"If you tell Merry and Pippin about this," he said through gritted teeth. "They will make my life unbearable."
"Never," Aragorn vowed. "And I am confident Samwise would never betray you either."
"'Course not, Mr. Frodo," Sam agreed.
Soon after, Frodo was seated on a stool in the adjoining bath, naked but for a towel draped across his lap and still gritting his teeth while Aragorn applied a thick, syrupy, foul-smelling liquid to the hair on his head and Sam applied it to his foot hair. He had, himself, already applied it to his groin. He closed watering eyes as the fumes drifted around him. His nose began to run and Sam handed him a clean handkerchief from a stack on a shelf built into the wall.
"Now," Aragorn said. "You must leave this treatment in for the next half an hour and then you can bathe and we will comb out the pests that remain behind."
Frodo gave him an accusing look. "You still think this is funny. I know you do."
Aragorn shook his head with no trace of amusement. "I have been infested myself, with lice that prefer Men to dogs," he said. "I am sorry, Frodo, that I laughed. It was unkind."
"Thank you," Frodo said, slightly mollified. He had managed to gather the remnants of his tattered dignity about him and he sat with hands folded on his towel-covered lap. He looked even more pitiful now than before, his curls plastered to his head, his foot hair as greasy and coarse-appearing as the hair of an orc. His eyes, always large, looked enormous in his small face.
"Aragorn," he said after a moment, his tone diffident. "You would not tell Arwen of this, would you? I know that you confide all to her, but. . ."
"I will tell no one, not even my wife," Aragorn promised. "Sam, will you go to the kitchen and ask the night attendant to send a tray with tea and biscuits to Frodo's chambers in one hour, please? And ask the valet to have the bed remade with clean linens? And then you should go to bed. You need sleep."
"But Strider, I. . ."
"I will take care of Frodo. I promise you."
Sam was plainly reluctant to leave Frodo, though just as plainly exhausted and near to falling asleep on his feet. He spoke to Frodo. "Mr. Frodo, you ain't angry with your Sam, are you?"
"Never, Sam. Go to bed," Frodo told him. "I am in good hands."
Sam withdrew after bidding them good night and the two friends sat and talked quietly as the prescribed half hour passed and when it had gone by, Aragorn himself filled the child-sized copper tub with warm water from the cauldron kept always hot over a low fire. He helped Frodo to step into the bath and lower himself into the water, then fetched a cake of sweet-smelling soap from a box on the shelf and knelt beside the tub to wash the hobbit's hair for him, scrubbing gently at the greasy curls to remove all of the treatment.
At first Frodo protested this service, vowing himself quite capable of washing his own hair, but then he relaxed and sat still with knees drawn to his chest, arms wrapped about them, eyes closed and a look of blissful peace stealing over his face as the creamy lather was massaged into his hair.
Aragorn used a silver pitcher to dip clean water to rinse out the soap, running his fingers gently through the sopping curls and saw that the dead lice were being rinsed out as well. A good combing would rid Frodo of them entirely.
"The treatment has done well," he said.
"Good." Frodo's voice was low and drowsy and he made no complaint as Aragorn proceeded to use a rough-textured cloth to scrub his back, then his chest and arms, continuing on to wash the rest of his body as though he were a small child.
"Done," Aragorn told him. He assisted Frodo to his feet and the hobbit stood in the tub as it drained while Aragorn poured water over him to rinse away the soap and most of the lice. He was docile now, his eyes closed, his body swaying slightly on his feet.
When the bath was done, he sat on the stool again, wrapped in a larger towel now that covered him like a blanket, and Aragorn used the finely-toothed wooden comb to comb carefully through his curls, using a small towel to catch the remaining parasites that were removed. The hair curled as it dried, becoming springy, and took on a burnished gleam. Frodo remained still, eyes shut, as Aragorn tended him.
"Now," Aragorn said when the curls were neatly arranged. "We must attend to your foot hair."
"Alright." Frodo said nothing more, simply waited, and Aragorn smiled. He drew his stool close in front of Frodo's and lifted one of the curiously large hobbit feet in one hand while he plied the comb with the other, grooming the foot hair as carefully and with as much gentleness as he had lavished on Frodo's head hair. When he had finished both feet, he moved the covering aside to inspect the dark nest that cradled Frodo's sex. Only a few nits were left there, and he combed them out, surprised when Frodo made no protest at being touched so intimately.
As he worked and Frodo submitted with perfect trust to his care, he reflected that he might someday have a son who would be about the size of this little hobbit, and a great tenderness swelled up inside him as he looked upon the tranquil face of the Ringbearer. Although, he reminded himself, Frodo was no child.
Tiny, frightened, alone except for faithful Sam, Frodo had taken step after dogged step into almost certain destruction without faltering, without despairing, where many strong Men would have fallen. He had carried the Ring farther than any other being of Middle Earth could have done and if, at the end, the Ring had overcome his will, it had never overcome his great heart. Because of this small, delicate being, Hope lived, and the world of Men had not failed.
Aragorn finished his task and by the time he was done Frodo was nearly asleep, drooping on the stool. He sighed when Aragorn gathered him into his arms and his own arms came up to twine around Aragorn's neck in a sleepy embrace. Aragorn, the King Elessar, carried his small friend into his bedchamber.
The bed had been remade and the white sheets were smooth and inviting, the pillow fluffed, the fire glowing in the hearth.
Aragorn lowered his precious burden gently into the bed, leaving him wrapped in the soft towel. Frodo sighed again and curled himself up without opening his eyes.
"Don't tell Arwen," he breathed.
Aragorn smiled and drew the coverings over him and tucked him in warmly.
"Have no fear, dear friend. It is our secret."
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