MISTRAL

"Ooh . . . "

Samwise Gamgee looked up sharply from his reverie, sitting in front of Aragorn in the boat as they travelled towards the Argonath, the figures only doll-sized from the vantage point of the three boats, shifting and swirling a little with the current of the river.

The Ringbearer, hobbit Frodo Baggins, had been quiet since they had left Lothlorien. Every so often Sam had caught Aragorn looking at Frodo with a slight worried look on his face, but he didn't ask any questions and Frodo volunteered no information. The rest of the Fellowship could be heard laughing and chatting together as they manoeuvred the boats towards the distant figures in the southeast, and not for the first time, Sam wished that he was with the others for awhile, joining in on the jokes. He loved Mr. Frodo and would do anything for him, but a hobbit had to have some merriment - all work and no play, well, that just wasn't done, where Sam was concerned. Every little noise made him jump, and Mr. Frodo wouldn't tell him anything, just sat, silent as a stone.

Frodo was sitting hunched in the boat, his face set and white, his hands clenched firmly on his lap. Aragorn was lost in his own thoughts, rowing smoothly through the sparkling water, and didn't notice Sam lean forward, shifting the weight in the boat slightly.

"Mr. Frodo, sir? Not to be a bother, but you've been awful quiet since we left the elf-forest . . ." Sam's voice trailed off uncertainly, rising at the end in suggestion.

Frodo looked with dull blue eyes at Sam. "Nothing, Sam, don't worry about me." He cleared his throat, looking like he was swallowing something down, and spoke to Aragorn, who was staring glassy-eyed ahead at the wide river.

"Aragorn . . . I wondered, as dangerous as it is, if we - " His voice cut off as the boat rolled a little, listing gently to the port side before righting itself. Frodo's face went even whiter and he clutched the sides of the boat tightly before relaxing and finishing his sentence. "If we could go ashore for an hour or two?"

Aragorn looked up. "I'd rather we not, Frodo, but if you're tired, we can dock for a moment to let Sam go over to Legolas' and Gimli's boat and you could lie down here."

Frodo nodded, although Sam looked horrified at being separated from his master, even though a few moments ago he was wishing for some new company. Aragorn called in Elvish to Legolas, then in Westron to Boromir, and the boats cut smoothly across the water to the western shore, where a small clearing in the never-ending tree line created a small beach.

The company crunched up onto the sand and Frodo shakily alighted, spurning Sam's well-meant offer of a hand. He didn't bother to tell Aragorn that he was leaving the beach for a moment, but simply went through the trees to a relatively bushy spot, where he lowered his breeches just in time.

His bowels evacuated quickly, causing the cramping in his tummy to lessen for a moment. He wasn't sure what was wrong, but he'd been feeling quite unwell since the morning the Fellowship had left Lothlorien, vomiting once over the side of the ivory boat (very embarrassing and making him subject to hoots and jeers from Merry and Pippin) and once last night, after a meagre dinner of lembas.

He'd chalked this biliousness up to seasickness or indigestion (because after eating Elvish food, one's tummy took awhile to get used to the less-rich nourishment of everyday life, as Frodo had found after leaving Rivendell), but he didn't think that indigestion lasted two days, and he was certain that seasickness did not include bowel trouble, which had started that morning.

After relieving himself, Frodo stood, letting his dizzy head stop swimming around before walking back to the beach, where the passenger-change had been made, Sam looking decidedly annoyed at being put in with Legolas and Gimli, although he'd been developing a rather flattering hero-worship for the Elf. Aragorn looked concerned as he swung Frodo into the boat, where a nice bed of blankets and everyone's extra clothing packs had been set up for the hobbit. Aragorn had put up with much on this trip from Frodo's health, and he wasn't about to let the hobbit fade this close to Mordor.

Frodo lay back on the blankets, feeling comfortable for the first time in two days. However, once Aragorn had pushed off, the rolling of the water beneath the base of the boat made his stomach turn over ominously, and fearing the worst, he sat up suddenly, causing Aragorn to look at him with surprise.

"Frodo? Are you all right?"

"Aragorn . . . I . . . I think . . ." Frodo didn't have time to say more before the half-digested contents of his stomach made themselves known, arcing over the clean blankets to spatter on the bow and hull of the boat at Frodo's feet.

Aragorn didn't blink, but simply patted Frodo's back. "There now, get it all up then . . . I suspected you weren't feeling very well, were you? I think I've got some gingerroot . . . that should take away that seasickness . . ." He rummaged in his pack but stopped as Frodo's tiny cold hand gripped his wrist.

"Aragorn, we need to stop. Now."

"Frodo, we've just gotten off again. I know you don't feel well, but if you need to vomit again, just lean over the side of the boat until it's finished with. I've got the very last of the gingerroot here . . ." Aragorn held up the twisted dun root.

"No . . . not that . . ." Frodo squinched his eyes shut, his back straightening, tiny buttocks clenching. "Have to . . . relief myself . . ."

Aragorn's eyes widened and he looked at the fast receding shore. "The next landing point is three miles away . . . oh dear." His sharp grey eyes scanned the tree line and he sighed, knowing it was futile. "Just a moment."

Paddling quickly so that he drew alongside the boat where Sam, Legolas and Gimli were chatting away about different styles of cooking, he quickly got the Elf's attention. "Legolas, where is the pack with the cooking supplies?"

Legolas looked up. "I believe I saw Sam here take it. Do you remember which boat you put it in, little one?"

But Sam was already rummaging in the luggage that filled the stern of the canoe, and with a clanking noise, he pulled it out. "Here, Strider," he said, tossing it into Frodo's and Aragorn's boat, shooting a concerned look at Frodo, whose desperate look was growing more intense by the moment.

Aragorn nodded and gave Sam a rare smile. "Thank you, Sam." He paddled away from them until he was several yards out of earshot and then looking through the sack, pulled out the large cooking pot and put it on the flat part of the floor of the canoe after filling it with a half-inch of water.

Because he knew Frodo was afraid to move, he leaned forward and gently lifted the tense little form, putting him squarely on the pot. Frodo was already undoing his breeches and as soon as his little bottom touched the cold metal, he was already relieving his cramped and irritated bowels, his white face turning a light shade of rose at the foulness and embarrassment. He pulled a blanket overtop of his bare legs.

Aragorn read his mind and turned himself around, to give Frodo a little privacy. "You can use that until we pull ashore at the next clearing. We'll go no farther today."

And Frodo hung on grimly until they stopped once again.

~To be Continued~