(NOTES: This is not a chapter, exactly, but rather an alternate one. What follows is the direction I had originally intended Falcon to go in, but changed my mind for several reasons: I wanted the storyline to move ahead, I felt it was too similar both to things that had already happened in Falcon and things that had happened in other stories of mine, I felt it was time to tone down the angst in Falcon, and the canon timeline was getting tight. But there were elements of this alternate storyline I liked and I wanted to see how they played out, the confrontation between Aragorn and Frodo specifically. After writing it, though, I find I like the material dealing with Legolas best. I have posted this previously in my Journal, so some of you may have seen it before. It picks up right after Chapter 21, West of the Moon, East of the Sun. The story would resume in Chapter 22, although with an altered timeline. Marigold encouraged me to go ahead and write this, and provided her guidance and insight, along with the beta. And I am sorry, dear Marigold, for where I almost took this thread.
Llinos wrote some wonderful and moving alternate lyrics to Legolas' song -- which she also composed -- for this version of the story. You can read them at the bottom of this chapter.)
The tent was quiet, no voices or sounds of movements, so Sam entered it in silence, as only a hobbit can. He was not terribly surprised by the scene that met his eyes -- Pippin was sleeping heavily in his cot, in his nightshirt and under the covers, while Merry was also sound asleep on his cot, fully dressed and on top of the covers. Sam's master, he discovered with a frown, was asleep in the chair beside Pippin's cot, feet propped up at the end of the tween-agers' blankets.
Well, that needs fixing, Sam thought to himself. There were two other perfectly serviceable and empty cots in this tent, and if his master wished to sleep here close to Pippin, then he would do it lying down comfortably. He strode purposefully over to the cot, but paused to look at Pippin before waking Frodo.
For the past two days, Pippin had battled a low fever that left him listless and aching. The hand throbbed constantly, adding to Pippin's misery. He had woken late that morning, but seemed to feel a little better, and had eaten a fair-sized luncheon. But he'd slept through tea, and would have slept through supper if Merry had not roused him and demanded he try to eat a little. Bleary-eyed and uncommunicative, Pippin had managed some soup and a bit of bread before returning to an exhausted slumber.
Poor lad, Sam thought, looking down at him. Pippin's curls were damp with sweat, and two red marks on his cheeks made it clear the fever still lingered. Sam frowned, and reached a hand out to touch Pippin's forehead.
Sam cried out and snatched his hand back -- the skin was scorching hot. Immediately, he tore the warm blankets off Pippin, revealing that the tween-ager was soaked with sweat.
Frodo jerked awake at Sam's cry and sat upright in his chair. he asked, rubbing at his eyes. What --
He's burning up! Sam cried. He needs help, right away! The gardener had already grabbed the water pitcher and was wetting a handkerchief with it. Frodo reached out a hand to gently touch Pippin's leg, but his face went white when he felt the heat coming off Pippin's skin before he ever touched it. He looked around wildly, calling, Legolas! Gimli!
Here, sir, here, Sam said, shoving the handkerchief at him. I'm going to get Strider, right this instant, and he bolted out of the tent.
Frodo wiped Pippin's face off with the handkerchief, poured more water over it and put it on his cousin's brow. There was a gasp and a flurry of motion nearby, and then Merry was beside him.
Merry cried, scrambling up on the bed and pulling Pippin's limp body into his arms. He was fine after supper, it can't have been an hour ago. How is he so hot? Frodo did not answer, but poured some water into his cupped hand and trickled it over Pippin's curls. Pippin, sweetheart, wake up! Merry cried urgently, but Pippin did not stir.
Aragorn flew across the camp, and men dived out of his path, frightened by the king's grim, urgent countenance. The grimness gave way to desperation when he stepped into the tent and beheld the scene within.
Legolas sat on the ground, Pippin held tightly within his arms, the small body convulsing violently. The hobbit's face was gray save the deep flush in his cheeks, and his body was drenched with sweat. Merry and Frodo knelt beside their cousin, armed with linens soaked with cold water. Legolas raised grievous eyes to Aragorn.
Fever fits -- this is the second, he said, unconsciously dropping into Elvish in his anxiety. Gimli has gone to have a tub of cold water brought in, but I fear the fever will burn him up before it can arrive.
Aragorn nodded and moved to kneel in front of Pippin, gently pushing Frodo and Merry aside. He was dimly aware of the two hobbits hovering each at a shoulder. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the discarded water pitcher -- they must have poured it over his head already. He laid a hand on Pippin's brow, closed his eyes, and concentrated.
Still. Still. Still.
Pippin took a great, shuddering breath and went limp in Legolas' arms. Aragorn quickly checked his pulse and breathing, then reached for the bandaged hand and began uncovering it.
Merry pleaded, his voice high-pitched and shaking.
Wait, Meriadoc, Aragorn said firmly, eyes never leaving his patient.
The hand was healing. The sutures were closing neatly, and the shiny, taut look of two days before was gone. But running up the forearm was a red streak. Aragorn sighed heavily and shut his eyes against the sight.
Merry said again, a little more frantically. It's getting better, right? It doesn't look like before. Why is his fever so high?
Before Aragorn could answer, two soldiers came in carrying a tub of water, which they set in the middle of the tent. Yes, yes, anywhere, and hurry! Gimli's entered at the soldiers' heels, shooing them away once they had deposited the tub. Legolas stood with Pippin in his arms, and unceremoniously dunked him in the tub. He then cradled the hobbit in the water, keeping just his face above water.
Keep him in there, Aragorn told the elf, who nodded. Now Aragorn turned to the cousins. The hand is getting better, because the infection is moving from it into his blood, he said quietly. We have to stop it, or he will surely die.
Frodo said in the quietest of voices.
Aragorn looked over at his patient for a moment. Sam was in the tent again now, and moved to stand beside his master. Legolas did not look up from his task, but Gimli beside him met the king's eyes briefly, knowingly. Aragorn turned back to the hobbits.
I need to take off his arm, he said.
Three horrified faces looked back at him. Then -- Merry said.
Aragorn began, but Merry did not let him finish.
he said. No, he's had enough, he's been through too much, he's not even grown up yet! You can't do this, I won't let you, how could you even think to do this to him! His voice rose with each word and he bristled upright, hands clenched into fists at his side.
Frodo said in a low voice, but Merry turned to look at him and screamed, NO! Not to my Pippin, NO! I have seen the patients here, I have heard them screaming and seen how they suffer afterward and then they die anyway, and NO NO NO! Not Pip! He directed the last at Aragorn, but it was Frodo who put a hand on Merry's elbow only to have Merry jerk violently away and push Frodo back.
That's enough, Sam said, and was behind Merry in an instant, gripping him with an arm wrapped under each armpit and up around his neck.
Let go! Merry screamed, and fought him, but Frodo said softly, Take him out of here, Sam, and Sam obeyed. Merry screamed obscenities the whole way, but the sound changed to harsh sobs outside the tent, interlaced with soothing words from Sam.
Go calm him, Aragorn urged Frodo. I need to prepare. If Merry is under control, I will let the two of you see Pippin briefly before I begin.
Aragorn, wait, Frodo said. Explain this to me; please, take a moment.
Frodo, we have not much time, Aragorn said desperately.
I understand. Frodo's voice was quiet and reasoned. But this is what I need to know -- if Pippin is so ill already, then the infection is already in his blood, and cutting off the arm may not help at all. Is that not right?
Aragorn took a shuddering breath. It may not help, that is true. But there is nothing else -- Frodo, we can treat him with such medicines as there are for this type of infection, but I have seen this many times before and it is pervasive and dangerous. It is, it is deadly, Frodo. Taking off the arm may not save him, this is true, but it is his best chance. If we do nothing, I believe we allow him to die.
Frodo nodded. But is he not so weak that he may not even survive the amputation?
Aragorn wavered, buying time by wiping off his mouth. He was keenly aware of both Legolas and Gimli watching and listening. I have learned not to underestimate hobbits, he said finally.
Frodo smiled sadly. You love him so much, he said simply. You wish to save him more than anything, as you wished to save me. But perhaps that is not what is meant to happen here.
Aragorn looked into Frodo's eyes in disbelief, but they were clear and honest and fully aware. Frodo laid a hand on Aragorn's arm. So much as you have come to love him, my love for him is 27 times over that, he said. But unless you can tell me that removing his arm bears a good chance of saving his life, I'll not allow it. He has suffered enough. I do not want this to be how his life ends. I would rather you make him comfortable, and treat him with such medicines as you think may help, and we will wait and see the result.
Aragorn said, somewhat amazed at the hobbit's boldness, I am his captain and his king, as well as his healer. This is not your decision to make.
Frodo's eyes flashed blue steel at the king and he drew himself up straighter. I am his cousin, his said emphatically, and responsible for his life in a way you could never be. I, not you, will face his parents someday, and if Pippin is not beside me, I, not you, will have to tell them of his last hours. I would not have them hear a tale of fear and blood and bitter agony. I would tell them that he did not suffer, and was with those who loved him, and went in peace and without struggle when he was called.
Aragorn opened his mouth to counter this argument when a voice stayed him. Frodo is right, Elessar, Gandalf said. Pippin's life bears little chance any route you take. If his cousins wish to let him go in peace, if go he must, then may the king honor their wishes.
There was silence in the tent for a moment as Aragorn met first Frodo and then Gandalf's eyes, reading the resolve there. Then he turned to find agreement in Gimli's face. Legolas would not look at him, but sang, softly, nearly inaudibly, to Pippin as he continued to cradle him in the tub. Aragorn closed his eyes in agony.
So be it, he said. I will do everything in my power to aid him, and to ease any pain or discomfort he might feel.
Frodo's small, bereft hand closed over the king's clenched fist. Thank you, Aragorn, he said.
And so they sat the death watch. Once Pippin's fever had come down some, they dried him and placed him in a clean bed. Aragorn sent for the healer woman and together they administered a variety of concoctions. Finally, Aragorn sat on Pippin's bedside silent and still, eyes closed, his hand covering the hobbit's brow. At length, Pippin gave a soft sigh, and to Frodo it seemed that his face softened and his breathing deepened.
They let Merry back in then, red-eyed but with no tears remaining. He disregarded chairs and all attempts to offer him comfort, instead climbing onto Pippin's bed and carefully wrapping his arms around his cousin through blankets and bandages. He then buried his face in the crook of Pippin's neck and did not move for hours.
Frodo accepted the chair, and the tea that Sam brought him, provided Sam would sit and drink as well. The Ringbearers did not speak after that, but sat silent and watchful as the night deepened. Gimli took up a guard outside the tent, his hand on his ax as though he could beat off even death with it. Gandalf and Aragorn took chairs on opposite sides of the table, and Gandalf lit his pipe. Aragorn frequently got up to check on his patient, always reporting little change for better or for worse. The healer woman came and went, bringing things she thought might prove useful, or just stopping in to check on the lad she had become so fond of.
Legolas, to everyone's surprise, left the tent without speaking to any of them.
Past midnight, Aragorn went outside for fresh air, and to stretch his legs, warding off weariness. The camp was nearly still – an encampment that size is never completely quiet -- and the stars were vibrant overhead. Aragorn walked without purpose, and found himself near the field the horses were kept in. Shadowfax and Arod were at hand, both standing near to Legolas, who was watching the sky. At intervals, one or the other of the horses would nuzzle the back of the elf's head, but Legolas did not seem to notice. Aragorn approached him but did not speak.
It makes a sad tale, to overcome so many adversities, to defeat your enemy, and yet to still be defeated yourself, Legolas said in Elvish, not turning to look at the king. The stars are near weeping as they sing his final notes.
You did not say what course you thought I should take, Aragorn said. Do you believe I have erred?
Legolas turned to look at him, eyes cutting and bright, but not accusatory. It is not for me to say, he answered simply. And perhaps it is not for you to save him, Estel.
Aragorn said, reaching up to stroke Arod's withers. They were quiet for a moment, then Aragorn said, I am going back to Pip now. Will you not come with me?
Legolas was watching the sky again, and it seemed suddenly to Aragorn that he was, indeed, listening to something that could not reach the man's ears. I have said farewell, Legolas said. I will wait here.
Aragorn bowed his head in acknowledgment, and left the elf gazing upward, head slightly turned as if to better hear a song.
What will we tell his parents? Merry whispered suddenly, face still pressed to Pippin's neck.
That he was brave and true, and beloved by many, Frodo answered.
Merry drew in a deep breath that hitched part way through and turned into a keening noise. How can we go back without him? he asked. How can there be a Shire without Pippin?
No one answered. Gandalf put out his pipe and set it aside. He stood and went over to the cot, and laid a hand on Merry's head. My dear Meriadoc, he said, if there is to be a Shire without Pippin, then it is because Pippin gave his life so that there would not be a world without the Shire.
Merry began to cry in earnest then, and Frodo was off his chair and onto the bed, cradling Merry as best he could. Sam, tears forming in his sincere eyes, was a step behind, and though the cot protested the weight of four hobbits, it held them, arms about one another, curly heads close together, a protective circle to ward off all evil, while the wizard stood guard above them.
In the first moments after dawn, while the Sun was just beginning to stretch her rays across the wooded hills of Ithilien, Pippin turned his head to nuzzle Merry's cheek and breathed, and then began to sleep a deep, dreamless, sleep, his fever dropping with each hour.
Aragorn confirmed what they all hoped, that the fever was broken and Pippin rested easy. The king would not say Pippin was better, but cautioned everyone to wait and watch. Despite his words of warning, there was great relief among the Fellowship, and each of them in turn acquiesced to rest and food and fresh air.
Pippin did not wake until the evening of the next day, the long hours in between weighing heavily on his friends, but as Aragorn continued to reassure everyone that he did not seem to be in harm's way, his fellow hobbits resisted the urge to try to shake him awake. When he finally did wake, he blinked sleepy eyes up at his cousins and said, Hullo, Merry, Frodo. I am starving. Did I miss supper? The patient was quite bewildered when his kin both began crying and clutching him, and even more so when Sam joined them a moment later. Fortunately, Gandalf was at hand to rescue him.
Good gracious, he said, reaching through the emotional hobbits to pluck the bewildered tween-ager from his bed, let the lad breathe. And someone go fetch him some supper!
When Aragorn arrived, Pippin was perched on Gandalf's lap at the table, wrapped in a cumbersome number of blankets, being fed soup and listening with wide eyes to a very selective retelling of the past days' events. Aragorn's subsequent exam and report of returning good health was met with smiles and tears, and then the hobbits removed Pippin from Gandalf's care and bundled him back into bed.
At some point, Frodo and Sam had claimed Legolas and Gimli's cots in the tents, and no one dared order them back to their much more comfortable lodgings, so the elf and the dwarf had quietly taken up residence with Gandalf, who was pretending not to notice their sudden presence in his sleeping quarters. So it was that when Legolas crept into the tent after dark that he found inside four sleeping hobbits, all on a row of cots, none more than arms' width apart. Moving in elvish silence, he went to Pippin's bedside and looked down in wonder at the sleeping hobbit.
Gimli brought me soup and bread and jam and custard, Pippin said, then opened one eye to peer slyly at Legolas. But I thought you must not be happy at all that I was awake, as you did not come to see me.
Legolas smiled, and Pippin opened his other eye. The elf touched the hobbit's curls lightly. I am here now, he said.
So I see, Pippin answered. Why did you take so long?
I had to finish something, Legolas answered, sitting on the edge of the cot. I thought I had finished it already, but then it turned out that I had made a grave mistake. I wanted to correct it right away.
Pippin reached for Legolas' hand. Was it so very important? More important than me?
But it was about you, the elf said softly. It is not finished even now, but I have rectified the mistake. I will share it with you, as soon as it is ready.
Pippin was yawning. You are talking in riddles, he said, and I am too tired for it, though I don't see how I could be when I have been asleep for days and days.
But you were not really sleeping, Legolas reminded him gently.
I dreamed, though, Pippin said, letting his eyes shut. It was important, but now I can't remember it.
Perhaps you will dream of it again, the elf said, then stroked the hobbit's curls. Sleep, dear heart, and dream.
But Pippin was already asleep. Legolas kept watch, clasping the hobbit's hand tenderly and singing softly to himself.
ADDITIONAL VERSES TO LEGOLAS' SONG, BY LLINOS:
Each story that's told has a sad end at last,
But the little one's sadness came much too fast,
The song should have ended, with the tiny bird grown,
But Fate was relentless and harder than stone,
The Valar, in pity, had allowed you to live,
But a whole life it seemed was not Theirs to give,
To have torn you apart would be too cruel a thing,
For how could you fly with only one wing,
The pain would be great and the chance far too small,
Let him live in one piece - or not at all,
And so we each kissed you and bade you good night,
Sleep well, my brave Pippin, the High King's Knight.
Then Legolas crafted a final stanza, lines that would never fall upon the ears of a living person. It was a final promise to Pippin, that he would keep.
This prayer, dear heart Pippin is for you alone,
It came to my heart, ere your soul had flown,
The great love of the Periain is hard to believe,
But greater by far is the pain when they grieve.
When you died, Pippin, then Merry died too,
His grief was as deep as his vast love for you.
Although Fate seemed cruel, in truth it was kind,
Kinder for you - cruel for those left behind,
But this vow I make from the depths of my heart,
I'll care for him, Pippin, while you're apart,
I'll guard and protect him and share his pain,
Until Fate brings you safely together again.