This story is dedicated to Woman of the Dunedain, who innocently suggested that I might have something to say about Frodo's awakening in Cormallen. I gave it some thought, and how about that --- I *do* have something to say about it. How did she know?

This is my own imagining of that missing ROTK scene, and I suspect it will be no more than three or four short chapters in all (before Sam wakes up and I bump into Prof. Tolkien's *real* scene). Slightly AU. I hope you enjoy.

DISCLAIMER: Of course. The characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night.

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IN THE KEEPING OF THE KING

Chapter 1 --- Alive



Frodo couldn't remember ever feeling so relaxed, so utterly content. He lay, drowsing lightly, on the softest grass he had ever felt, under a warm, gentle sun. He wasn't hungry or thirsty, and there was no pain or fear. Time may have been passing, but it did not disturb him. There was only peace.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, he became aware of a calm, soothing voice, as gentle as a breeze in the trees. It whispered, it beckoned.

"Frodo," he heard. "It's time to return. You have done well, young one, very well indeed. Breathe deeply, now. Gently, now. Here we go..."

Frodo sighed and clutched at the soft grass... or was it a blanket?

"Frodo." This was a different voice, quiet and familiar. "Frodo, follow my voice. Come back. Wake up now, little one."

"Estë...?"

"What did he say?"

"Come back, Frodo. Come back to us. Breathe deeply, that's it."

Frodo opened his eyes to a blur of colors and swirling light. A face... He closed his eyes again, confused... drifting...

"It's all right, easy now." Fingers touched his brow, stroked softly. "Try again."

Frodo took a deep breath, then another. His body seemed to settle, come to a stop in one place. He slowly opened his eyes again. Aragorn's face. Trees and early-morning sunlight. Where was he? When?

"What..." Aragorn's face had the same majesty he remembered seeing as they passed the Argonath. So noble and full of light... "Aragorn?"

"That's right." Aragorn smiled in relief. He had never sent anyone into so deep a healing sleep as Frodo and Sam had been in for these weeks. But there had been no choice. What Gandalf had been able to read from the memories of these two was of endurance beyond comprehension, beyond hope or strength. Not that their injuries had not told him enough. Wounded, burnt, maimed, starved, dehydrated and half-poisoned by vaporous fumes... still they had prevailed.

The tale had spread throughout the camp, to the last soldier. Everyone waited impatiently for these two to wake; everyone wanted to meet them, to see them, to gaze in wonder at the Ringbearers. But first they had needed time --- time for the body to heal, and for the spirit to heal with it. As best it could.

Aragorn moved slightly, allowing Frodo to see who was standing behind him. He kept his fingers pressed lightly to Frodo's right wrist, and was surprised to feel no change in the hobbit's heart rate. Frodo just gazed up at Gandalf with a smile.

"Oh Gandalf, it's so good to see you."

"It is good to see you as well, my dear boy."

Suddenly Frodo gasped and looked back at Aragorn, his eyes filling with tears.

"Aragorn, are you dead as well? When did it happen?"

So that was it. Aragorn smiled and touched his hand to Frodo's face.

"I am not dead, Frodo, nor are you. Nor is Gandalf. We are all alive." He saw Frodo's eyes flicking from his face to Gandalf's, trying to understand. "You're alive, Frodo. You were rescued. Gandalf was rescued. The War has been won, and you are safe and well."

"A. . alive?" Now Aragorn felt Frodo's pulse begin to race. "Alive?" Frodo sat up, and Aragorn reached out to steady him. "Are you sure?"

"Quite sure." Aragorn gently picked up Frodo's right hand and held it up.

Frodo sat still as stone, staring at his four-fingered hand and trying to take it all in. Alive? What about...

"Sam," he whispered. "Sam?"

"Sam is here," Aragorn said. "He will be just fine. You can see him in a minute." He sat down on the bed and gathered the hobbit into his arms. "You're alive, Frodo. It's over." He felt the small arms wrap tightly around him, the small body starting to shake.

"There was no way back," Frodo murmured. "I knew we'd never come back..."

"I know this is a shock," Aragorn said softly. "Do you remember everything?"

"Yes," Frodo whispered. "Is this real?"

"Can you feel my heart beating? And your own?"

"Oh, yes." Frodo looked up. "G. . Gandalf, is that really you?"

The wizard chuckled and sat down on the other side of Frodo. "It is really me."

"You look..." Frodo gazed into the wizard's radiant face.

"I look a bit better than the last time you saw me, do I not?"

"You're not dead?"

The wizard smiled. "Only a hobbit could unleash such an unending flow of questions. I assure you, I am quite alive."

Finally the tears in the enormous blue eyes overflowed and spilled over. "Gandalf," Frodo sobbed.

The wizard smiled and cupped Frodo's face in his hands. "You bore your burden well, dear boy, and I am proud of you."

Then Frodo began to laugh with joy, the tears continuing to flow, and the wizard's hearty laughter joined with his, echoing far beyond the beech grove and into the ears of two small soldiers who had waited a lifetime to hear it.

"Oh," whispered Pippin. "Oh, Merry. Listen."



** TBC **