I don't own the characters or Frodo's memories in this fic. They belong to JRR Tolkien. God rest him. I apologise if I cause him any offence by dabbling in his world.
It was so quiet that Sam found it difficult to believe they were in the centre of a city. Almost mid summer, the middle of the day was very warm this far south and the hobbits had taken quite well to the local habit of napping after the midday meal. The small, courtyard garden, of Gandalf's modest house was protected by high stone walls that kept out the noise of passing traffic and held in the heat. Sam wondered if that would be as much of an advantage in a months time, when the summer heat peaked, but for now it was wonderful to lie here beneath the sycamore tree and allow his tired body to soak up the warmth.
With gentle and thorough care, all four of the hobbits had recovered well from their injuries but all were finding that their bodies still clamoured for more sleep than they once had. The healers had told them it was normal and, after the first few days of wild celebration, Aragorn had instructed the civil servant, who's job it was to organise their party going, to limit the number of engagements they accepted.
Merry and Pippin were indoors this afternoon, playing some strange card game that Faramir had taught them. Sam raised himself on his elbows to look through the open window and smiled as he saw the two propped against each other on a couch, eyes closed and the cards scattered on the floor at their feet. It seemed that sleep had crept up on them unawares.
Rolling onto his side and propping himself on one elbow, Sam watched his master as he rested. He slept more peacefully during the daytime, with fewer nightmares. His face was still to sharply defined for a hobbit and the skin too pale beneath its summer bronzing. There was a gloss in the dark curls that framed his face however, a slight pink flush to his cheeks and Sam knew that when those dark lashes rose again they would reveal clear blue eyes that sparkled when he laughed. Of course, there was a dark depth to them that had not been as obvious before, but they were no longer flat and red rimmed.
A small black spider began to examine the soft woollen rug on which the two hobbits lay, ambling slowly across the rough fabric to the relative shelter of the narrow shadow cast by Frodo's body. Sam had not seen its like before, but then, this far south, there were many new creatures to discover. He decided not to wake Frodo. It had taken Sam quite a while before he could face any spider, whatever size, with any confidence but Frodo was still wary of them and would often start from dream, brushing invisible cobwebs from himself and struggling against Sam's arms, as though still bound as Shelob had left him.
The small creature explored the shade beneath Frodo's left hand and then clambered up. For a moment it sat in the sun . . . as though spying out the lay of the land. Sam glanced up at his master's face as he noticed a finger twitch. The dark lashes still rested lightly upon smooth skin but Sam could see a fluttering beneath the lids and a small crease began to form between elegantly expressive dark brows.
Seeming to sense the disquiet of its perch the spider began to run down towards Frodo's finger, intent on returning to the stillness of the blanket. Even asleep, Frodo sensed the tickling movement, however and sat up, his eyes wide and searching. Sam reached out, trying to calm him, but Frodo was beyond calming and found the cause of his distress at once. He cried out and tried to brush the spider from his hand but the creature responded in self-defence against the attack and sank its jaws into the soft flesh. Frodo yelped again and finally succeeded in brushing it from him. Sam glanced down, just in time to see the spider sailing away on a hastily spun thread, the red markings on its belly glowing in the sunlight.
Terror still shone large in Frodo's eyes and Sam turned him into his embrace. Frodo sobbed and buried his head on a comforting shoulder as his friend held him close. "It's alright, Mr Frodo. You're safe. The dark lady has gone. She's dead. You're safe." Sam murmured on for some time, his hand smoothing up and down Frodo's back until the trembling slowed and stopped.
Sam released him gently as Frodo leaned back, searching for a handkerchief. "I'm sorry Sam. That was silly of me. I really must get over this. You're right. Shelob is gone and that poor little creature was hardly of a size to bother me." He found the sought after hanky and proceeded to wipe his eyes and blow his nose.
"Now, now, Mr Frodo. Begging your pardon but, that healer fellow you've been talking to says as how it will take time, and you're not to rush it. You've been through a lot, sir. Give yourself time and I'm sure it'll all come right in the end." Sam smiled encouragingly, but his hand still rested reassuringly on Frodo's arm.
Frodo took a deep breath and smiled back, although it didn't quite make it to his eyes. He rubbed his hand down the side of his trousers, an action that Sam noticed at once. In a blink his hand was caught in Sam's and the gardener was inspecting the small pink swelling with its tiny white centre. "Looks like she bit you, sir. Mind you I can understand that. I expect you gave her quite a fright. She was only doing a bit of exploring and suddenly she was being attacked."
That at least brought a relieved chuckle from Frodo. "I wonder which of us was the more frightened?"
Sam put an arm about his friend's shoulder and began to lead him back to the house. "Well, from the reaction I'd say her. I didn't see you trying to take a bite out of her."
"Oh, Sam! What a revolting thought." Frodo's smile finally found his eyes as he pushed Sam hard enough to make the other stagger and chuckle.
"Supper's ready, Frodo." Pippin stuck his head around the door of the bedroom Frodo shared with Sam and stepped in when he saw his cousin curled up on the bed. He tiptoed across the room, not wanting to wake Frodo if he was sleeping. Gandalf had warned them all that it may take Frodo longer to recover from his journey than they and so all made sure to leave him to sleep if they found him dozing. His effort was wasted, however, for when he rounded the bed he found Frodo's eyes open, if a little glazed.
"I'm sorry, cousin. Did I wake you?"
Frodo pushed himself up and scrubbed at his face, wincing a little as he moved his left hand. "No Pip. I was just resting. I don't think I'll bother with supper tonight. I'm not very hungry." He rubbed at his left hand and winced again. Pippin's eyes followed his as they looked down at the hand and two sets of eyes widened.
The hand was swollen and pink, with a large white lump at the base of the first finger. Pippin leaned closer and reached out an exploratory finger. He brushed it very gently across the red flesh and the lump but even this feather-light touch made Frodo bite his lip. "It looks like you've been stung by something, Frodo. Maybe you should get one of the healers to take a look at it."
Frodo drew his hand away. "It's alright. It happened this afternoon. It will probably go down overnight. But I don't feel much like eating. I think I'll have an early night."
Pippin frowned. "Are you sure you don't want a healer to look at that? It looks awfully angry."
His comment was met with a wan smile. "Yes . . . she was rather angry. My own silly fault. No go on and have your supper. I shall be fully recovered in the morning. It's no worse than a bee sting." He waved Pippin away with a broad smile and the younger hobbit smiled back.
"The saviour of Middle earth should take more care of himself."
His only response from Frodo was an upward roll of his eyes. "Out with you and leave this poor broken old hobbit to sleep."
Pippin giggled as he closed the door but Frodo didn't hear it because he was too busy hunting for the chamber pot beneath his bed. It was fortunate that Pippin was out of earshot as Frodo threw up violently.
Hot. He was hot and he just wanted to go back to the comfort of sleep but hands kept moving him and voices murmured from all around him. Frodo tried to bat the hands away, to roll away from the voices but they would not leave.
He tried to open his eyes but the lids felt stiff and would not open far enough for him to make out any more than blurred shapes. At least the voices started to make sense.
"Hold him up while I get this nightshirt over his head." That voice was familiar. Gandalf?
Frodo tried to swallow but his tongue felt huge and dry. "What's happened?" His voice was no more than a whisper but the others paused.
"You are unwell, Master Frodo. Do you remember the spider?"
Eyes, dozens of piercing gleaming eyes. Darkness and a foetid, stomach churning stench of rot. The tick and scrabble of many shiny feet on stone and the touch of cobwebs across his face and mouth.
He screamed and tried to scrabble away from the things that clung to him, until his back came up hard against a smooth wall. Something was wrapped about him, hanging about his neck, it entwined him, trapping an arm and winding about his legs. Frodo screamed and began to tear at the bindings, feeling it give and hearing the loud rending of it.
The shadows tried to catch him, grasping his ankles and wrists and he struggled all the harder, sobbing as he sensed that the battle was being lost and he would soon be trussed and cocooned, waiting in silence to be the next meal.
As his voice failed he became aware that the shadows were talking again.
"Take the nightshirt off him. It's too constricting. Too many memories." The bindings were released and Frodo took a deep breath, trying to make sense of the events now that the panic was subsiding.
"It's alright, Master Frodo. You have a fever and it is making you confused. Let us help you." Frodo did not recognise this voice but it was kindly and soothing.
Several sets of hands began to move him once more, drawing him away from the wall, settling him back into yielding softness, straightening his limbs and brushing his hair away from his brow.
"That's it, now, Mr Frodo. Just you lie quiet and you'll feel better." Sam. Sam was here. He would be safe now. Frodo became aware that the hand soothing his brow was smaller than the others and his flesh recognised it at last. This was the hand that had brought the only comfort he had left in the parched land. When blankets and food and water had gone, Sam had cradled his head in his lap and stroked his brow like this.
Frodo started as something settled across his body. Cobwebs? No. "They're only blankets, Frodo. To keep you warm." Another soothing voice . . . Gandalf.
"Where am I?" It was clear he was not in Shelob's lair but where was he? Frodo's memory seemed to be a swirling maelstrom that would not stand still long enough for him to catch and hold an impression.
Gandalf's voice came from closer and Frodo felt the surface beneath his shift to one side a little, a shadowed image coming closer. "You are in Minas Tirith. In your bed in my house. And your enemy is defeated. You are safe here, among your friends."
As he spoke someone brought his left arm out from what Frodo now recognised as the soft warmth of woollen blankets. Frodo tried to squirm away as something was spread over his hand and fingers, but then he settled as a cool comfort followed the touch. The throbbing that was so much a part of his consciousness that he had barely registered it, began to fade.
A cool cloth dabbed at his face and neck and then he was lifted, cradled in warm strong arms. He relaxed as he inhaled the warm wool and pipeweed scent of Gandalf.
"That's it, Frodo. You're going to be alright. Do you remember what happened now? In the garden?"
"Garden?" Frodo tried desperately to pull up some image of a garden but whenever he tried to push his mind backwards he ended up back in the darkness with that smell. He gagged and someone supported him as he heaved wretchedly into a hastily provided basin. When he lay back in Gandalf's arms once more, exhausted, Sam's hand returned to smooth his brow.
"In the garden, this afternoon, Mr Frodo. Don't you remember? You were sleeping and that little spider woke you up. It bit you . . . remember?"
Sam's voice brought it back at last. The small black creature scuttering across his hand, the sharp nip. He shuddered and curled up in Gandalf's arms as a brilliant flash of remembered pain stabbed in his neck. No . . . this was another . . . smaller. She was gone . . . dead. Sam killed her. Faithful Sam.
"It wasn't her, was it? It was another?"
"Her?" There was the unknown voice again.
"Shelob, Master Aldern. We had a nasty run in with a very big spider in Mordor. She bit my master . . . nearly killed him." Sam's voice sank and Frodo felt his gentle touch on his brow again. "I thought she'd killed him and I left him . . . much to my eternal shame."
The confession brought Frodo back to the here and now more certainly than any other words could. "No, Sam. You weren't to know. And you were the one that got the Ring into Mordor. And then . . . oh then . . . faithful Sam . . . you came back for me. You carry no shame."
Frodo blinked swollen eyelids, trying to bring his world into focus, but his eyes refused to co-operate. A shadow bent over him again. "Master Frodo? Can you swallow this for me? It is an antidote to the spider venom." A cup touched his lips and Frodo opened his mouth obediently. The liquid was warm and not unpleasant and settled easily in his tender stomach.
He felt wretched. The pounding in his head was blocking any attempt to think clearly and he felt hot and cold at the same time. He curled up even smaller in Gandalf's arms and felt someone tucking a blanket about him. This time it did not feel as constraining and he welcomed its soft warmth, nestling closer to the comfort of his old friend.
"Will he be alright?"
"Yes, Master Samwise. The bite of the hourglass spider is not usually deadly. In fact to a grown man it is no worse than a bee sting. In children it can bring about an unpleasant reaction and a halfling's size would suggest that your bodies would react similarly. It is possible that your Master's reaction is a little more extreme because of his previous encounter with a spider."
"Why can't I see?" Frodo breathed, to no-one in particular.
It was the healer's voice that replied. "The venom has caused some swelling of soft tissue. It is your body trying to defend itself and not a failure of your sight. When the swelling goes down you will be able to see normally again."
"That's right, Mr Frodo. Your eyelids are all swollen. You look like you did when you had that run in with Bill Sandyman when you first came to visit Bag End." Frodo heard his friend chuckle. "What a set too that was. You had such a shiner that Mister Bilbo made you go lie down with a chunk of best steak on your eye. Although, as I remember it, Bill didn't come off any better. You gave him a right shock that day. He thought you was all quiet and mild. I reckon he wasn't the last to find out there was more to you than met the eye." Sam's gentle hand rubbed Frodo's back. "You never did tell me what started it."
Frodo pretended he had not heard the last comment. Sam would never learn from Frodo the cruel words Bill had spoken about his friend and his family. "I think I felt pretty much the same then."
"You will feel better in the morning. How does your head feel now?"
Frodo considered a moment, realising that the headache did, indeed, seem to be diminishing. "A bit better, thank you, Master?"
"I am Master Healer Aldern. Your friends sent for me when they found you this evening. Someone should have warned you about the hourglass spider. I fear we are so used to them that we have learned to treat them with respect. Sam tells me you have no poisonous spiders in your Shire. You are indeed fortunate if you do not."
"I've never heard tell of one. And Sam knows more about the wildlife of the Shire than I do. Thank you for your aid, Master Aldern."
"We don't have nothing so vicious, that's for sure. I don't see why anything that small has call for such a nasty bite anyway."
Frodo found that he was feeling better by the moment. Whatever Master Aldern had given him was working swiftly, it was also making him feel rather drowsy. Gandalf's rich voice rumbled above his head, a comfortable sound remembered from childhood visits with Bilbo when Frodo had often fallen asleep on the couch, listening to the two talking long into the night.
"I think you and Frodo, not to mention Pippin and Merry, have established for the world that size is not always an indication of strength, Sam." Familiar arms wrapped more closely about Frodo and, fully grown though he was, he allowed himself to be comforted as he had so many years ago by the ancient wizard. He tried to suppress a yawn and failed, allowing his eyes to slide shut.
Aldern spoke from somewhere behind him. "I think he will sleep now. Let us settle him down."
Frodo wanted to protest the movement but he was too sleepy and the bed too soft. Pillows cradled his head and blankets and soft linen sheets were tucked about him. He curled up on his side and let the world slip away. There were no dreams . . . just warm darkness and the brush of familiar fingers across his brow.
His last conscious thought was a hope that the spider had survived. It was small but it was strong and it was only defending itself against something much bigger. Such bravery was to be admired.