A/N: When I began this story over a year ago I remember how incredibly nervous I was. I posted it on the FrodoHealers site and was terrified at the thought of trying to match such talents as Shirebound, Lily Baggins, Febobe, Ariel and so many others. I had never written anything before and had never been able to put my wildly imaginative ideas (not trying to sound vain here, really) down on paper. My grammar and tenses were so atrocious in the first few chapters that I almost gave up on the whole idea, but I received so much encouragement and help from all of the authors on the site that I strived to correct my deficiencies and produce something that people could read without cringing. I can't tell you, I mean truly tell you, the deep and abiding love I feel for all that have read this story and given me such positive feedback. Without you I would never have stretched myself to fill the gap I felt within me. I went through some very hard times back then, when the movies came out, and I wanted so much to find people that shared my love of hobbits and Tolkien. While I found a few that enjoyed the stories, they lacked the true obsession I was experiencing at the time. They gave me pitying looks and laughed at the thought of anyone becoming so involved in a work of fantasy. You can imagine my elation at finding people who felt as I did and their love helped to fill the gap that I was experiencing with what became, new group of friends, some of which I feel an almost familial connection to. This story and any subsequent fics that will be written, is dedicated to all of you who have made my life complete and happy.
I have the permission of the fantastic Elwen to post a fic that she began and I have taken over. The first chapter is hers but I have written the subsequent chapters. I will be posting it on this site and Stories of Arda as "Twists of Fate". Of course it's Frodocentric, and you can't have Frodo without Aragorn so he is also a key character. I am working on a new story that, if it's anything like what I have been playing around with in my head, is bound to be a great one (no vanity intended). I am very excited about the whole plot, as I have not read one like it anywhere else. So please feel free to bookmark my site and stay tuned for new developments.
I have never liked stories where the main character makes a miraculous recovery from a long illness. It has made this story incredibly long trying to show how slow a person is to actually be back to full health. I could have drawn this out to the point of somnolence but had mercy on the reader and myself, as that would have made the story incredibly boring. Also I must apologize for making Frodo suffer every disease known to man and more in this story. For some reason I couldn't stop myself because I enjoyed so much making him better. Silly me, as I could have written ten stories with all the illnesses he had in this one fic, but enough blabbering, let's get on with the last chapter of Smoke and Mirrors. Sigh I feel strangely sad, yet relieved like giving birth after all this time....
I suggest a trip to the bathroom before you settle down. This is one long chapter...
Smoke and Mirrors Chapter 40
Disclaimers: All characters, places and events are the sole property of the Tolkien Estate. I receive no money for this piece of fiction, only the satisfaction of writing about the land and peoples that he so beautifully depicted.
It was much later that evening when Sam entered Frodo's room baring a tray laden with all of Frodo's favorite foods. He had hand picked and supervised the preparation of each dish, even pausing to add a new bloom from Frodo's patio rose bush, and hoped his master would enjoy the handsome repast. He opened the door and, seeing that his master faced away from him, walked to the other side of the bed, placing the tray on the sideboard. When he turned to face Frodo he inhaled sharply. Frodo's face was much more pallid than normal, the lips a dusky blue. But what caused the gardener to quail were the sapphire eyes staring off, unseeing, seemingly towards the wall.
"Mr. Frodo, it's your Sam. I've brought you a bite to eat, sir," Sam said quietly, his voice quavering. There was no response from the ringbearer and Sam would have thought his master dead except for the raspy inhale and exhale of each slow breath. Sam placed a trembling hand on Frodo's shoulder and shook him lightly. "Mr. Frodo? Frodo?" He asked with increasing urgency. Sam began to panic, but then heard a quiet, whispered "Sam?"
"Mr. Frodo, you scared me awful, you did. I've brought some supper sir. Let me just help you up a bit and we'll get you ready to tuck in."
"No, Sam. So tired...not hungry," came the weak response.
"Now, sir, you know you gotta eat to get feelin' better. I've picked some wonderful dishes, I have, just the thing to get you up to rights again," Sam said with a worried frown. 'He still hasn't moved and does seem mighty lethargic', thought Sam. 'And he's so pale'.
"Can't, Sam. Can't. Need to rest just a bit more," Frodo said in a hushed voice. Sam took Frodo's hand and sat in a chair by the bed. The hand was limp and ice cold as he began chafing it between his warm calloused ones, trying to will some life back into them.
"Please, Mr. Frodo. Please, just a bite or two," Sam wheedled, tears now starting to fill his hazel eyes. "For your, Sam?" he continued. There was no response, so Sam took this as a yes. Frodo still hadn't moved and Sam was loath to force him, so he laid a cloth napkin along the pillow. He selected a light apple custard dish, and using a child sized spoon, placed some in Frodo's mouth. For long moments, nothing happened and then Sam saw his master's throat move as he swallowed. "There you go, Mr. Frodo, what d'ya think of that? Right tasty, isn't it?" Sam said with forced cheerfulness.
"Good," was all Frodo said. Sam prepared another spoonful with much the same results. In this way, he got more than half of the mixture into his master before Frodo turned away, indicating he wanted no more.
"I've also brought a tasty blueberry treacle, Mr. Frodo. Would you like to try a taste, sir?" Sam asked in a trembling voice. Frodo's lack of response and slowed mannerisms were taking a toll on the cheerful facade of the gardener. 'It just weren't normal for a body to be so still and to not eat anymore than he had,' thought Sam.
"Full, Sam...but thank you, my Sam," Frodo whispered. "Tired." Frodo closed his eyes; his breathing became shallow and light indicating he had slipped into a doze.
"Not right. Somethin's not right at all, and I mean to find out what's to be done about it," Sam muttered with concern. He quickly rose and began, at first, to walk, but the more he thought about it, the more panicked he became and the faster he went until he was running as fast as his short legs would carry him. He cleared the doorway of the Houses of Healing and ran full tilt up the next level to the Citadel. By now he was near hysterics wondering what could be wrong with his dear master. The guard bowed and allowed Sam in without question, he raced to the main dining area and, again, was granted immediate access. Aragorn, rose at the sight of the breathless and disheveled gardener running down the length of the room towards the head of the table.
"Sam? What is it?" Asked Aragorn with concern. Gandalf, Faramir, Eowyn and the Lady Arwen all rose as one, alarmed at the flushed and distraught appearance of the hobbit.
"Frodo..." Sam panted.
"What about Frodo? Is he unwell?" asked Gandalf sternly.
Sam was having a hard time regulating his breathing enough to explain about his master, which only added to his frustration. "He's not himself. He's weak and pale and can't even lift his head," Sam gasped. Arwen brought him a glass of water, knelt and helped him to drink it, as she gently patted his back. He smiled his thanks and she made his day by gracing him with one of her dazzling smiles in return. Sam was suddenly thankful that he was already flushed and sweaty as he gulped bashfully.
Aragorn scooped up the gardener and made for the exit. "I'll hear no arguments about being carried, Sam. You should not have run all the way here. You have only just recovered from your journey as well, plus your shorter gait would only slow us down, so you shall be carried," said Aragorn brusquely. Sam was too worried about his master to even consider the possibility of not being carried. He only wanted to return quickly and be by Frodo's side. The others all followed suit and soon the procession was making all haste to the sixth level.
When they arrived at the Houses of Healing and entered Frodo's room, night had fallen and the room was pitch black. Candles were quickly lit showing the ringbearer to be on his side as Sam had left him and as Aragorn had last seen him hours before. His eyes were two blue, blank pools staring off into nothingness. Aragorn knelt by the bed and gently shook Frodo's shoulder but received no response.
"Frodo. Frodo, answer me," he commanded. He felt Frodo's forehead, which was clammy, a sheen of sweat coated the hobbit's face. The King passed a candle back and forth in front of the unseeing eyes; the blue irises stared back at him, unblinking. "His skin is so cold and clammy and his breathing is much to labored," he said. He raised his eyes to Gandalf. "When I left him earlier he was despondent about not being able to spend time outside, but this goes deeper than mere depression or Baggins stubbornness. Have you seen this before, Gandalf?" Aragorn asked.
"Yes, and I had hoped to never see it again. I wondered if this would happen, what with the long recuperation time needed for Frodo's wounds to properly heal," the wizard looked weary and ancient as he settled himself at the end of the over large bed.
"Do not speak in riddles, Gandalf. What ails him?" Aragorn asked, a note of desperation could be detected in his voice.
"Aragorn, have you heard stories about rare and exotic birds or animals that have been captured as pets? They were given foods they would normally eat, water and the best cages that could be built, and yet they languished, eventually dying, usually by starving themselves. Hobbits are not unlike a rare bird. You can feed them, heal their wounds, dote on them and see to their every need, but over time, if not able to breathe the free air or feel the earth beneath their ridiculously hairy and overlarge feet, they will die," the wizard said sadly.
"Gandalf, what you say, makes no sense. Frodo is not being held captive. He is honored and revered and I would do anything to keep him safe and content. I cannot allow him to roam outside until he is well enough to walk or stand," said Aragorn gruffly.
"These other animals I spoke of were also honored and revered. They were kept safe and seemingly, cherished. Despite what you say, Aragorn, a cage is still a cage. Frodo is not causing this, do not misunderstand, I have no doubt that he is feeling very confused and experiencing no small amount of anxiety as well because his body will not do as he commands it. It is the unfortunate side effect of prolonged captivity that causes this to happen to hobbits," Gandalf tried to explain.
"Then why have we not seen this sooner?" Aragorn demanded.
"Perhaps because Frodo's body has been busy healing itself, it's very survival taking precedence to this other malady. Once his body felt it was strong enough, only then did we see this sickness emerge. A sickness that is unique to hobbits, I might add, amongst the human races," Gandalf offered.
"What can we do to arrest this malaise?" Aragorn asked, as he gently rolled Frodo onto his back and pulled the counterpane up close to his chest.
"There is little you can do, I'm afraid," said Gandalf sadly. A sob broke the silence in the room, reminding Aragorn and Gandalf of the others presence. Sam watched them, tears sliding down his flushed cheeks.
"You're not gonna give up on him, are you Strider? You're still gonna try to help 'em arn't you?" He sobbed.
"Of course, Sam. We will do all we can. Sam, have you heard of this sickness before?" Aragorn asked, curious.
"Aye sir, I have. I had a second cousin who knew someone who was visitin' Bree. 'Got all messed up with some o' the wrong kind o' people and they thrown him in the jail up at Staddle. He sat there waitin' for his Da to come an' pay to get him out, 'cept his Da never got word of it till it were too late. Six months he sat there and he slowly stopped eatin', didn't want ta do nothin' but sleep and stare out the barred window. Finally they came in to check on him cause he'd been that quiet and he was dead, still had his eyes open starin' out that window. Was right hard on his Da too," Sam said quietly.
"Sam would you see that a hot bath is poured for Frodo and some strong tea made?" asked Aragorn.
"Yes sir," Sam said as he scurried away, happy to have something to do to help his master.
"What is going on in here?" a small voice cried from the doorway. "Frodo? What's wrong with Frodo?" A small body quickly dodged through the larger bodies and climbed up on the bed. Merry's face fell as he studied his cousin's. "Aragorn?"
"Merry, I am sorry you were awoken by us. Frodo seems to have developed a.... sickness due to his confinement at Minas Tirith. We are striving to find ways to bring him out of his stupor," Aragorn said gently.
"The Wasting," Merry whispered with quiet dread.
"What did you say, Merry?" Aragorn asked.
Merry turned frightened eyes towards Aragorn, "It's called 'The Wasting Disease'. I've only seen one case of it before, at the Hall." Merry gulped, his lip quivering. He turned back to look at his cousin and reached out, capturing the cold hand in his. "A child of about 10 summers fell from a tree and broke her back. They knew she would never walk again, but she was still able to use her hands. She had to lie still for many months and did well enough throughout the last days of summer, but as fall came on and with it, winter, she became less and less talkative. She slowly stopped eating and would only stare at the ceiling above her bed, not speaking to anyone," he gulped. "She died." He turned and looked at Aragorn, "She starved to death or I should say, the Wasting took over and she simply lost the will to eat, and eventually, to live," he swallowed thickly, tears in his eyes. "We cannot let this happen to Frodo. He is already so thin, it would take no time at all for the disease to take his life."
"We will fight this, Merry. For now, I would like you to rest," Aragorn said firmly.
"But..." Merry began.
"Frodo will need your strength. You must sleep so that you will be ready to assist us with him tomorrow," Aragorn argued. Merry turned sad eyes from Aragorn to Frodo then crept up the bed and placed a loving kiss on Frodo's forehead. Swiping tears away, he climbed from the bed without speaking further, and left the room. Aragorn motioned to Saleth, "Please see that Merry is given a sleeping draught for tonight, or he will worry till morning," he said. Saleth nodded and left the room.
Sam returned with the tea and a small kettle of thin broth and was followed by two healers bearing coppers of hot water. The bath was prepared and Aragorn gently stripped Frodo of his nightshirt and carried the quickly cooling body of the tiny hobbit to the small tub and placed him in the warm water. A small sigh was the only indication that Frodo noticed all that passed around him. Aragorn spoke gently as he lathered and rinsed and then, removed the now warmed hobbit from the water and cuddled him into fluffy toweling. The others slowly filed from the room, Queen Arwen gently escorting a reluctant Sam who glanced worriedly over his shoulder, leaving a guilt ridden King, and Gandalf alone with the mute hero.
"How could I have been so foolish, so neglectful? Calmly eating my supper while he was alone and slipping away from us," Aragorn spit out through clenched teeth.
"You could not have known," insisted the wizard, looking concernedly at the King. "He is strong, he will recover."
"Are you so certain? What if, after all he has been through, all he has suffered for and all he has lost, that this...THIS is what takes him so cruelly from us?" Aragorn cried bitterly.
"No! I made the mistake before of leaving him, thinking he was but wallowing in self pity, I shall not do that again," he said angrily. "All he wanted was to see Sam's roses," he whispered. "Well, a bit late but, hopefully not to late, for that," he stood and gathered several blankets and pillows in his arms. Next he pulled a feather pallet off of a bed in the tiny alcove off of Frodo's room. He took the pallet outside to the patio and walked out onto the grass. He found an area with a clear view of the stars and laid the pallet on the ground. He returned to the room and gathered up the blankets and pillows, retracing his steps to the patio area. He made the makeshift bed and returned a last time to Frodo's room. Gently he lifted the slight form, holding him close to his heart, and carried him to the garden. He knelt, lowering the hobbit to the bed, the blue eyes staring unseeing up at the glittering dome above him. Gandalf had followed him out and watched as he saw both King and hobbit settle down on the feather bed. Aragorn pulled Frodo up into his lap so that he lay across the cross-legged King. "I denied this of you earlier, my friend, I pray to Eru that I will not rue that hour. I shall not be so hasty with you in the future," he crooned as he gently rocked Frodo back and forth.
The wizard watched from the shadows as another more slender figure joined him. Slowly, Arwen took Gandalf's hand. He turned to her smiling slightly and brought the Lady's hand to his lips. "My Queen," he whispered.
"Mithrandir?" she asked.
"There, by the hedge," he pointed.
"Ahh. My husband is most distressed, but I feel Frodo has still much strength left in him," she whispered.
"Let us hope it is enough," Gandalf murmured.
"It will be." She turned and looked again at Gandalf and smiled radiantly. "It will be, Mithrandir." Gandalf smiled, his heart lightened by these words, and bowed his head to the Queen. He departed with a last glance back at the two huddled figures.
In the early hours of morning Saleth rose and went to Frodo's room to see how he fared. When he walked through the doors he gasped at the sight of the empty bed. Frantically, he raced from room to room looking for the ringbearer. Gandalf came upon him, mumbling to himself, in the corridor by Pippin and Merry's quarters. He smiled at the overwrought appearance of the healer then guided him out onto the patio below Frodo's room. There, in the grass, surrounded by Sam's handiwork he not only found the missing ringbearer, but the King as well. They lay curled together upon a feather mattress and covered in quilts. Saleth called for orderlies to bring heated stones wrapped in cloth, which were placed about the sleeping forms to ward off the morning chill. Frodo's eyes were, thankfully, closed. But the King, used to sleeping lightly after being a ranger most of his life, watched them as they doted on them and smiled his thanks to Saleth. After they departed he pulled Frodo closer to him and went back to sleep.
He could feel, rather than see with his limited and fogged vision, the deep rosy purples of a new day barely dawning. The slow, steady thrum of the earth moved beneath his beaten body. He felt for the first time in what...days? (Or had it been merely hours? he could not know) the steady and languorous return of life, a life he had given up as lost forever to powers beyond his control, begin to seep back into his soul. He had relinquished himself to the fact that, at long last, it was over. All of it finally over and the eternal sleep of the just or maybe just the road weary and battle worn, would be his at last. Surprisingly this had brought him not fear, but a great peace. But now, now that the earth's life giving force could be felt so subtly creeping back into his frail form, he felt hope that he might yet feel again the loving embrace of his kin and his dear Sam. At his back, the gentle soft breath of his King and dear friend crept across his neck like the breath of the Valar itself, calling him back from the very brink of death. Slowly, the maimed hand, the former embarrassment and guilt forgotten, moved to, once again, stroke the verdant green that was so freely nursed from the dark soil beneath. And, upon the gentle stroking of the tender young shoots, the peace that filled the hearts of all who dwelt with and within the earth fired the near extinguished spark of Frodo's soul. He drowsed. Although the ultramarine eyes were open, they focused only inward; a small tendril of life clung and grew, knowing that, with tender cultivation, it could once again grow into what was at the very heart of a hobbit.
In the morning a light humming awoke Aragorn from a sound sleep. He lay listening but heard nothing, no...There it was again, just snatches every now and then of a simple tune barely whispered. As he puzzled as to what could be making the noise, he rose on his elbow and peered over the side of the spooned hobbit. Frodo was the source of the faint humming and, as Aragorn watched, he saw that the hobbit's right hand lay in the grass by the makeshift bed, lightly ruffling the blades of with his fingertips. The King crawled around until he was looking into the deep blue eyes.
"Frodo? Are you awake, little one?" he asked quietly. Gently he smoothed back the curls from the furrowed brow, mindful of the healing cut. The blue eyes stared off as before, but Aragorn felt a ray of hope to see the tiny, wounded hand lightly caressing the tender shoots and hear the occasional snatches hummed of a tune only known by Frodo himself. Aragorn smiled widely. "We will see you cured yet, my dearest of hobbits," he said softly. He reached under Frodo and began to gently lift him to bear him back to his bed, but a faint mewling sound stopped his motions. He pulled back and gazed once again into the crystal blue eyes. They were moist; he could swear they were moist.
"Frodo, did I hurt you? Are you in pain, little one?" Aragorn asked anxiously. He now well understood how frustrating it would be to be a parent of a small child, not knowing what they wanted or if they were in pain. He scrutinized the pale face and vacant eyes and sighed.
"Beggin' your pardon, Mr. Strider, but I don't think that's it at all, if I might be so bold, sir." Aragorn turned and saw the small gardener standing in the portico leading to the small garden, bearing a tray laden with breakfast for three. He walked slowly to the two campers and squatted down, placing the tray on the grass. He spread a light quilt on the grass and began unloading the tray complete with tea service for three, scones, marmalade and raspberry jams, strawberries and cream, bacon and sausages and a special peach froth for Frodo. He poured the tea, adding honey to Frodo's and began serving up a small plate for his master.
"What do you mean, Samwise?" asked Aragorn, as he poured tea for himself and Sam and began munching on a scone.
"I think Mr. Frodo didn't wanna leave and that's why he made that little noise." Sam smiled. "He's already gettin' better ain't he? I mean, I saw him touchin' the grass an all and hummin' that little lullaby and then he makes that little noise when you tried to take him back inside. He's gettin' better!" he said excitedly.
"Sam, I wouldn't read too much into one night out in the garden. I would truly hate to see your hopes dashed if it all came to naught," Aragorn said hesitantly.
"I never lost hope in Mordor, and I don't mean to now. I haveta believe in somethin', Strider, and I've always believed in Mr. Frodo 'cause he's never once let me down or caused me to question him." Aragorn looked up at Sam, raising his eyebrows. "No Strider, never once," Sam said insistently, surmising that Strider doubted him, that surely Sam had doubted Frodo at the cracks of Mount Doom which, honestly, Sam had a bit, but was not about to admit that to Strider.
"Well, we can prove you right Sam, easily enough. In fact, if this works I have a plan to try and bring Frodo back to us faster.
"All right," Sam said hesitantly. "What did you have in mind, sir?" He gave Aragorn a skeptical look. Aragorn smiled at Sam then turned and leaned over Frodo.
"Frodo, Sam believes you wish to stay here in the garden and that was why you cried out when I tried to pick you up." The blue eyes continued their scrutiny of nothing. "I have a small wager with your gardener here, that if you wish to stay outside that when I go to pick you up again, you will make a sound or gesture to stop me." Aragorn smiled into the small face. "Shall we give it a try then?" He moved his hands under Frodo's knees and behind his shoulders and began to lift up, but was stopped when the faint mewling sound came again.
"See? Told ya so, Mr. Strider. He wants ta stay," Sam said with a self satisfied smile, his body fairly shaking with excitement.
"Sam, he could just be making this noise because I'm hurting him in some way when I try to lift him," he winked at Sam. Sam smiled widely back at him. "Tell you what Sam, if Frodo makes absolutely no sound when I sit him up to eat and eats at least let's say, all of that peach froth and one half of a scone soaked in tea then I will believe he wants to stay here in the garden and will make him a very comfortable spot here in the shade where he can stay for a few hours time. What say you, Sam...is it a wager say for this very plump sausage here?" Aragorn laughed.
"Very well, Strider, I'll take that bet," Sam giggled. Aragorn held his breath as he made to lift Frodo once again only this time; he pulled the ringbearer up onto his lap with Frodo's head leaning back against his chest. Frodo made not a sound.
"Ah ha, told you..." Sam smiled gleefully.
"Not yet, Master Gamgee, there is still the small matter of the peach froth and the one and a half scones and tea to be taken care of," Aragorn said lightheartedly. In truth he could have jumped and shouted with delight right at that moment, so excited was he to be proven wrong.
"Half a scone, Strider," Sam said with a giggle.
"I stand corrected, my friend. Half a scone it is," chuckled Aragorn. His hands shook as he swirled and then took a small spoonful of the peach froth onto the child sized spoon and placed the small bite in Frodo's mouth. He watched as it was slowly swallowed. It took almost half of an hour, but the peach froth was consumed. Sam caught Aragorn's eye and smiled slowly.
"Here Mr. Frodo, have a strawberry dipped in clotted cream; they're especially sweet this morning." Sam made to place a small piece in Frodo's mouth but the lips became a tight, unyielding line barring the way for the juicy morsel.
Sam jumped to his feet and began dancing and shouting, "He understands, he understands," he yelled as Aragorn sat, watching and laughing at the gardener's jig while holding the doll like hobbit on his lap. When finally Sam, exhausted but happy, came back to the blanket, Aragorn was soaking half of a scone on a saucer with the hot tea. Once the scone was sufficiently soggy he began to slowly place spoonfuls of the mixture into Frodo's tiny mouth. Frodo would hold it there, much like the froth, and then gradually swallow, allowing it to effortlessly slide down his throat. After some twenty minutes the half scone and tea were gone and Aragorn began soaking the second half in more of the sweetened tea. Sam smiled slightly, his eyes sparkling. Aragorn looked up at Sam and returned the smile. Unbeknownst to the picnickers a small circle of friends and kin had formed on the portico looking out onto the garden.
"What was all that racket? Is Frodo all right, he isn't in his room? Merry exclaimed as he rushed to the doorway, quickly followed by an out of breath Pippin hobbling on crutches.
"No, he is fine Merry. See? He's outside with Aragorn and Sam," answered Faramir who pointed to the three breakfasters. Aragorn was now leaning over Frodo, who sat propped on his lap, head tucked under the King's chin.
"Since you enjoyed that half of the scone so much, Frodo, I thought, perhaps, you would like a bit more," said the King as he quickly glanced up at Sam. Sam held his breath as he gave a quick nod to Aragorn. Aragorn, too, held his breath as he brought a small spoonful of the soaked scone up to Frodo's small mouth...a mouth that was immediately unyielding, forming a tight line on the pale face.
"Ah Ha!" Aragorn exclaimed. He laid Frodo carefully on his side and grabbed Sam and began to dance a jig in a small circle around their breakfast blanket.
"He heard you! He's goin' ta be alright," laughed an exuberant Sam, jumping up and down and holding a laughing King's hands as they danced and crowed joyfully around the prone ringbearer.
In the doorway Eowyn and Arwen, as one, covered their mouths and began giggling helplessly. Faramir and Gandalf began loud booming laughter as Saleth stood, open mouthed, transfixed by the sight of the very tall King dancing delightedly with the very small periannth. Merry and Pip looked at each other with puzzled, but amused, expressions on their faces. Merry's eyes settled on Frodo and, impulsively, he grabbed Pippin's arm.
"Pip, look at Frodo," he squealed. Pip looked over at his cousin and saw that the fingertips of his right hand were gently caressing the tender shoots of grass alongside the blanket. The eyes still stared off at nothing, but this meant little to Merry and Pippin who were filled with unbridled joy at seeing even the simplest of reactions from their beloved cousin. Merry swept Pippin up and spun him around, doing his own dance of celebration. Soon, everyone was laughing and dancing about in the flower garden, completely lost in this small moment of well-deserved happiness. Oblivious to all was Frodo, who listened to the steady heartbeat of the earth as he gently fondled the verge before his eyes.
The next couple of days passed slowly as Frodo made no further improvement but did not falter either, in his recovery. An air of hopefulness had settled over the close knit group of friends as they each took turns feeding, talking to or carrying the small hobbit about outside. On the fifth day Aragorn came to Frodo's room with a tray of soft foods and regular breakfast fare for Sam, and set it by the bedside. He opened the shutters allowing a soft breeze and thus fragrant aroma of the garden to permeate and clear the sickroom. Sam had slept beside his master in case he had awoken and needed anything and now blinked sleepily as the gray light of morning began to filter in through the billowing curtains.
"I thought you and Frodo would like some breakfast, Sam," said Aragorn. He pulled a chair to the bedside and peered into the startling blue, yet blank, eyes of the former ringbearer. "And Frodo, how are you faring today? I've brought you some apple jelly, toast squares and some more of that peach froth you liked so much," he motioned to each of the entrees as he spoke. He and Sam had decided to continue to talk to Frodo as if he could respond in the hopes that soon, he would. Occasionally they would throw out a bit of erroneous information hoping to stimulate a rebuttal. Sam carefully pulled Frodo up into a sitting position against his chest. Frodo groaned and closed his eyes. His face turned very pale and a sheen of sweat had broken out on his forehead and upper lip.
Sam and Aragorn peered worriedly at him. Aragorn quickly brought a basin and placed it beneath the small chin. Frodo bent over, with Sam's help, and vomited repeatedly until only dry heaves came forth. He sagged, bonelessly, over Sam's arm, tears coursing down his cheeks. Sam crooned to him, whispering soothing words, until the fit passed.
"I'm sorry Mr. Frodo. I musta' moved you too quickly. Strider, why is he still so sick?" Sam asked worriedly.
"Frodo is still recovering from the concussion, Sam. Hopefully, in a few days, the dizziness will abate and he'll feel more like himself. Aragorn wiped the quivering mouth and, with a clean cloth dipped in cool water, washed the sweat and vomit from the pallid face. Frodo's eyes were closed as Sam slowly pulled him back, once again, to his chest. Slowly, the eyes opened and fixed on the King. Aragorn started, seeing that he was actually being scrutinized by Frodo; the first time, that he knew of, since the malaise had descended that Frodo hadn't stared off into space.
"What is it, Strider?" Sam asked quietly as he glanced first at the King, then at his master. He studied his master and a smile slowly lit his round face. "He's lookin' at you, ain't he," he whispered.
"Yes Sam, it appears he is. I do not wish to break this contact. Would you feed him as I speak with him?"
"O' course, sir." Noting that Strider had said 'speak with him' instead of speak to him. He selected one of the dishes and slowly began to spoon the apple jelly into Frodo's small mouth.
"How does that taste, my friend?" Aragorn asked quietly, not expecting a reply, but hoping for one, nonetheless. Frodo swallowed slowly, his gaze never leaving Aragorn's. "Frodo, I would very much like to take you outside to see the special plantings Sam has been so busy with, around the white tree sapling. Of course, if you wish to go, I'll have to know one way or the other so that I can arrange a bath and clothing." He paused and observed the cherubic face for any reaction. The blue eyes remained locked with the King's gray ones as if engaged in a battle of wills. Aragorn reached over and slowly took Frodo's tiny hand in his. He was happy to note that at least it was warmer than the day before. "I suppose, if you are too tired, we could postpone the outing for another day," the King baited. The tiniest squeak came from Frodo's lips. Aragorn watched as Frodo's forehead furrowed and a dew of perspiration began to form on his lip. He could tell that there was a great struggle, a battle, being waged; where Frodo was the challenger and the disease, the favored victor. Who would actually be the champion? Aragorn could only hope it would, eventually, be Frodo. His heart ached to watch the duel, but knew that it was necessary for Frodo to overcome and defeat the disease on his own terms. Another small gasp escaped Frodo's lips. Sam watched his master's face with a look that was a mix of frustration and anticipation. Aragorn squeezed Frodo's hand. "Was that a yes, Frodo? Would you like to see how beautiful the courtyard now looks? Would you like to perhaps stroll a few steps amidst the flowers?" Aragorn whispered, his nose now mere inches from Frodo's.
A look of complete and total frustration flickered in Frodo's eyes. His lips quivered as they tried, so desperately, to express themselves as they once had. Then Aragorn inhaled sharply as slow tears began to flow down Frodo's cheeks, yet his face remained locked and closed as before. Aragorn pulled him to him in a tight embrace planting a long kiss on the tangled curls. "I would say that that was a big yes," he said huskily as he leaned him back and looked into the blank face. Frodo was panting as if he had run a great race, eyes closed amidst the sweaty face. "You shall have your walk, my friend, but first eat so that you will have the strength, then a bath and a rest, for you have labored much already this morning. When you have eaten, bathed and rested we will go to the courtyard and you may stay all day amongst the flowers, if you so desire. Oh Frodo, I know you can hear me, and you must not lose hope. We will not allow you to fade away, dear friend. Each day brings you a little closer to your freedom and happiness and we will help you, however we can, to see you attain that goal." Aragorn was overcome with emotion and renewed respect for the small person, after witnessing Frodo's shear force of will.
Sam had been silent throughout the contest of wills, but Aragorn looked at him now. His face was damp with fresh tears but he wore a triumphant smile and Aragorn pulled him into the huge embrace he shared with Frodo. Frodo's eyes had reverted to the glassy stare, but this did not dampen the feeling of renewed hope that permeated the room. Sam wiped his eyes and sniffed. "Well, Mr. Frodo, if'n you're goin' out and about you'll need a bit more ta eat, so here's some more of that apple jelly, sir." He spooned the fruit into Frodo's mouth and Frodo swallowed slowly. Sam painstakingly fed Frodo all that Aragorn had brought and although the toast squares had to be torn into very tiny pieces so he wouldn't choke, Frodo had eaten all of it. While breakfast was being fed to the ringbearer, orderlies had brought coppers of hot and cold water and filled the small tub, adding a small amount of lavender oil lastly.
"Sam, why don't you go and eat your breakfast while Frodo has his bath?" Aragorn asked.
"Well sir, I don't know if I should leave him. I'm not all that hungry anyways," Sam said as his stomach rumbled.
Aragorn raised an eyebrow and fixed his eyes on Sam. "Master Gamgee, I will not permit you to go with us on our outing if you do not have breakfast and a bath afterwards. Is that clear?" the King said in a calm, powerful voice.
Sam's eyes grew very wide. "That's mighty harsh, Strider. Who'd tell Mr. Frodo what was what if I weren't there?" he huffed.
"We will manage without you, Sam, unless you obey my wishes," Aragorn said softly.
Sam sighed and looked down, "All right, but I won't be but two shakes and then I'm comin' right back," he acquiesced.
"We will not depart without you Sam, fear not. I believe Frodo would be much more comfortable if you were to join us and tell him all that you have done for the renewal of Gondor's beauty," Aragorn murmured, smiling.
Sam blushed and took Frodo's hands in his. "Your Sam will be right back, Mr. Frodo," he whispered as he placed a light kiss on the hobbit's forehead. Frodo made no move to indicate he had heard or understood the gesture. Sam slowly lowered himself down from the bed and, with a last glance back, left the room.
Aragorn turned his attentions to Frodo, slowly removing the soiled nightshirt and carrying the slight body to the awaiting tub. As he gently washed Frodo's hair he carried on a running commentary about the history of the white tree. He told Frodo how he and Gandalf had come upon the small sapling in the rock hills; how they had carefully extricated it from the hard soil and brought it to the sacred ground and planted it, reverently, where the once beautiful predecessor had resided. He told of how, once planted, the sapling had grown quickly to the height of a hobbit (he had chuckled at the comparison) in a matter of weeks. The tree had seemed magical to all who tended it, not only with the speed at which it grew, but that it had flowered its heavily scented white blossoms mere days after being planted. Gently, he rinsed Frodo's body and hair, all the while watching the hobbit's face for any flicker of understanding or interest in his story. There had been none, yet Aragorn had not been disheartened. He removed the ringbearer from his bath, dried him and laid him on the bed. He pulled a clean nightshirt over his head and eased the hobbit back on the pillows.
"Now, Master Baggins, it is time to remove those stitches," he said as he gathered a small, delicate, pair of scissors and tweezers. The instruments were intricately etched with small birds and vines and had been a gift to Aragorn from Elrond long ago. Carefully each stitch was clipped and the horsehair tweezed from the mended cut. Frodo grimaced as the last stitch was cut and removed. "I am sorry Frodo if I have caused you discomfort," Aragorn whispered, although he was not sorry to have witnessed, yet another, sign of awareness from his friend. The forehead was still black and blue, tinged with yellow, and obviously still tender. Frodo closed his eyes briefly as Aragorn gently applied a lightly scented balm to the healed cut.
"Ouch," Frodo murmured, causing the King to draw back suddenly as if burned.
"Frodo, did you just speak or were my ears deceiving me?" Aragorn whispered excitedly. No response was forthcoming. Aragorn held his breath and lightly placed his fingertips on the colorful bruise. He pushed gently.
"Ouch...don't," Frodo croaked. Aragorn broke into a huge grin and chuckled lightly.
"Oh Frodo, I am sorry. But it was worth it to hear you speak once again, my friend," Aragorn choked, his voice full of emotion. Frodo closed his eyes slowly, his head nodding against his chest. "But your work this morning has taken its toll and you have earned a much needed rest." He gently removed the extra pillows from behind Frodo's head and lay him back cuddled in a small cocoon of blankets and bolsters. "Rest, my friend, and when you awaken we will stroll amidst the beauty that the hands of Samwise has wrought," he whispered. He wiped the tears from his eyes and watched Frodo as he sighed and pulled a small pillow to his chest. His eyes were closed and only when his breaths came in soft, regular inhalations did Aragorn rise and exit quietly, knowing that he slept.
When Frodo awoke the light had slowly climbed to midday. He could hear the birds outside his window as they chirped and scolded one another over those things that only birds knew or cared about. He rolled slowly to his back and saw that Sam sat beside his bed looking scrubbed, fed and refreshed.
"'Lo Mr. Frodo. 'Heard you an Strider had a small chat earlier," the gardener beamed into the face of his master and friend. "Are you ready to visit the white tree, sir? They await you if'n you are," he continued. Frodo merely stared at the hopeful face of his friend. "Well, me dear, you'll be needin' some clothes, I reckon, so we best get you dressed so as not to upset the lady folk," he chuckled. He retrieved a light shirt, vest and breeches from the wardrobe and brought them to the bedside. He slowly removed the nightshirt and pulled Frodo's arms through the sleeves. "I think you'll be right impressed with the beauty of the King's tree, sir. It's a miracle it is, at how tall that little twig has grown. Why, I'd swear by me Gaffer you could sit and watch it grow, I would. It's like some sort 'o magic at how it's spurted up into such a vision from nothin'. I didn't think it'd grow and blossom so quick like, let alone even live, it looked so fragile and dead like when I seen it the first time. But, by the Valar, it's a sight to behold now. I planted all around it, flowers and such, bein' mindful 'course not to cramp its roots, if'n you take my meanin'," Sam prattled on in his cheerful voice as he carefully dressed his master and brushed his foot hair. Frodo wore a small smile at hearing his friend carry on, but was still unable to contribute to the one sided conversation.
Aragorn entered the room at that point and surveyed the neatly dressed gentle hobbit and his gardener. "Who amongst you would enjoy a stroll in the King's garden? He asked with a smile.
"Why, I do believe me and Mr. Frodo would be up for that, Strider," Sam bantered back to the King.
Aragorn smiled as he gently picked Frodo up and settled him on his hip. "Then I shall see if we might retain permission from the King. I have it, on good accord, that he can refuse nothing of the periannth," Aragorn replied with a chuckle. Sam giggled as they left the sick room behind and began walking from the healing house up to the Citadel. The sound of fast moving bare feet reached their ears and they turned to see Merry, and a much slower moving Pippin on crutches, hurrying to catch up to them.
"We heard Frodo spoke to you, Strider and had to see him for ourselves," panted Merry. His eyes raked over the frail appearance of his cousin. "Frodo," Merry gasped. His eyes quickly moved to the King. "He's so very thin, Strider," his eyes welled with tears.
"Yes Merry, it has been a horrible ordeal for all of us, Frodo's body the most, I fear," Aragorn said sadly.
"Does he not eat at all? Look at him; if you held him up to the light you could see right through him," sobbed Merry. Sam bristled at the comment. "I cannot bear to watch this despicable disease take yet another hobbit. I cannot!" Merry turned from his cousin as tears wove their way down his small face. Pippin's green eyes widened as he watched Merry, his face pale as he valiantly tried to maintain a precarious balance on his crutches. A light sheen of sweat covered his face.
Aragorn's face grew livid. He bent and placed Frodo gently on the stoop of the entrance to an abandoned home and motioned Sam over to sit with his master. He crossed to the two cousins' and grasped them, one in each arm, and carried them some twenty paces down the incline.
"You will not speak thus in front of Frodo. Despite what you may think, Meriadoc," (Merry winced at the use of his full name, formerly reserved for only the most dire of situations in which he was involved in some scheme gone wrong with Pippin) "we have great hopes for Frodo. He has shown much progress from what he was but a mere day or two past. He is eating, although not as much as we would like, and this walk was his desire. If you, one who has not only fought the Witch King of Angmar and one a troll," he turned to Pippin who, by now, had blanched of all color and was trembling violently, " Cannot be brave enough for your cousin, who gave his all to save Middle Earth, then I suggest you keep your distance. I will not allow you to undermine his progress with your air of hopelessness and negativity." Aragorn's gray eye shown with a violent spark and his voice was husky as he tried, without success, to control the anger that seethed within him. "And take Pippin back to Saleth, it is much to early for him to be galloping about trying to keep up with you. Look at him." Pippin looked down as he swayed on his crutches, not wishing to appear weak. "Look at him, Master Brandybuck!" Aragorn grasped Pippin's chin gently and tilted it up. "He is weak and obviously, in pain. How could you allow him to climb even this small incline in his condition?" Aragorn fairly shouted. Merry would have crawled under any rock at that moment, had one been available. He looked at Pippin in concern as Aragorn lifted him, tenderly, and began to carry him back down the incline. Merry gave one last look at Sam and Frodo and said, "I'm sorry, Frodo. I love you, cousin." He picked up the fallen crutches and followed the King down the slope, his head down in shame.
Saleth was waiting at the doorway. After witnessing the wrath of the new King being doled out upon the periannth he had decided not to approach any closer. He had come in search of the truants and watched as the King now approached. Pippin was placed, unceremoniously, in Saleth's open arms and Aragorn turned on his heal without even a backwards glance at the chagrined Brandybuck, and strode back up the incline to resume the proposed outing. Merry's mouth opened and closed in a futile attempt at an apology as he watched the King retreat.
"Come along Master Brandybuck," said Saleth gently, feeling a profound sense of pity for the small one. Merry again dropped his head and followed Saleth dutifully, back into the Houses of Healing.
Aragorn found Frodo and Sam where he had left them and had, by sheer force of will, calmed himself, so as not to cause alarm to Frodo from the emotions rolling off of him like a wave. He gently lifted Frodo back onto his hip and, smiling down at Sam, said "Frodo is much better, Sam. He will recover, I feel certain of this. As long as we are hopeful and supportive he will feel it and draw strength from us." Sam's look of hopelessness drained away and was replaced with a look of determination.
"Aye, Strider, I believe that meself. I'll not let anyone say otherwise, neither," he said with conviction.
They resumed their climb to the seventh level, coming at last to the courtyard of the White Tree. Upon arriving, Frodo began to squirm and fight against the King.
"Peace, Frodo, peace. I know your desires in this matter and will allow you to walk amongst the flowers. But you, my friend, are still much weakened from your numerous ordeals, and will only be allowed to walk a short distance. I have arranged to have a small area at the base of the tree set aside for you to rest and refresh yourself when weary. You may stay as long as you wish until, at last, fatigue totally claims you," Aragorn murmured. Frodo stilled his motions as Aragorn slowly set him down. He dug his toes into the rich loam as his eyes slowly climbed to behold the majesty of the former sapling. The tree seemed to sense the admiration being bestowed upon it and the boughs dipped slightly, though there was no wind. Frodo closed his eyes and breathed deeply of the fragrance spilling forth from the delicate white flowers, a look of ecstasy infusing his upturned face. Sam and Aragorn stood amazed as they watched the interaction between the two forms bound by love of good, clean soil.
"It's as if they know each as kindred spirits, both bein' lovers of good, clean soil," murmured the adoring gardener.
"Yes, Sam. They seem to be drawing strength from each other, as if speaking a secret language just the two of them share. Not with the words so much as feelings of reverence for the soil in which they both stand," whispered Aragorn.
Frodo could feel a vibration that seemed to travel through the soil from all of the growth and beauty surrounding him, its strongest source coming from the White Tree itself. Like a vibration it entered his burrowing feet until, at last, it culminated in his very being. He opened his eyes and gazed with love at the tree above him. He took hesitant steps over to the trunk and placed his small hands upon it. It was almost as if the tree were trying to impart some small portion of its life energy into the tiny being, and he smiled broadly at receiving the gift. He stepped back slightly and held out his diminutive hand as four perfectly shaped white blossoms drifted down to the upturned palm. A light laugh escaped his lips and Sam's heart clenched in sudden joy at hearing the genuine, and all to infrequent, sound. Aragorn's eyes grew misty to behold the interchange and he and Sam smiled, in unison, at the effect the tree had had on the road weary traveler.
Frodo's smile wavered slightly as fatigue pulled at him. He swayed with exhaustion and Aragorn and Sam reached out suddenly to keep him from collapsing.
"Enough for now, my friend. Shall we have a light meal and perhaps a rest here by the tree on the blanket?" Aragorn whispered. Frodo turned his face towards Sam and Aragorn and they saw not the icy far off look as before but true recognition. They both gasped for they knew they were witnessing their friend being returned to them, at long last.
"Thank.... you..." came the barest, whispered response, and before Aragorn or Frodo could prepare themselves, a blur of ginger curls that was Samwise Gamgee, was hurdling himself towards his master.
"Oh, Mr. Frodo, we thought we'd lost you. But you're here with us now, and well, we missed you so and Merry was losin' hope, and Pippin, he was cryin' all the time and..." Sam blubbered as he crushed Frodo to him.
"Sam...Sam, control yourself and give Frodo some room," laughed Aragorn. Sam pulled back, but there had only been that one moment of lucidity and Frodo was gone, once again locked behind the vacant eyes. Sam felt all joy suddenly leave his heart.
"Mr. Frodo, come back to your Sam," he plead. "I know you can hear me so you come back here this instant," Sam said with a shake of Frodo's shoulders. "You can't go away, not again. Please, please come back," the gardener gasped as he broke down into helpless sobbing. Aragorn rescued Frodo from Sam's grip and sat him against the trunk of the tree. Next, he pulled Sam to him in a tight embrace and as he gently stroked Sam's soft curls, he tried to console him.
"Sam, he is getting better. Each moment lasts longer. He spoke directly to us this time. He is so close to being fully returned to us; please do not lose hope, my friend. As long as there is hope shared between us, Frodo will grow even stronger still," he crooned.
"I was jes' so sure he was finally back for good. I'm sorry for bein' such a ninnyhammer, its jes' that I miss 'em so much. It's been nigh on eight days but it feels like a month, it does, since I heard him tell me to quit my fussin' and that he weren't hungry and all the other silly things we fuss at each other about every day, and I jes' miss 'em so," he released a deep, watery sigh. "I would do almost anythin' to hear him jes' tell me to leave 'em alone and quit my mothering," he said with a final wipe of his eyes. "But you're right, Mr. Strider, he's better each day and it was wrong o' me ta lose hope. You must think me quite the child, bawlin' like a bairn at the drop o' the hat," he said as he looked down at his hands.
"Not at all, Sam. You have had little rest since this all began and have held up remarkably well. I too, felt a great relief when he spoke, but could see what you could not as you held him; that his eyes lost the spark of recognition as you pulled him to you. And while it saddened me greatly, he did speak with us without us having to trick him, like usual, and that is a cause for celebration," Aragorn smiled.
Sam smiled brightly. "You're right, sir. Weren't no tricks or nothin', he made the first move. It's a wonder, it is. This 'ere tree is a wonder," he said in awe. Frodo's eyes had become heavy lidded as he listened to the voices and felt the tree's life forces as they pulsed into his back. A small secret smile remained on his face. Sam smiled. "Well Master, you do look content you do. Like a cat that's caught the mouse, I'd say. I think a snack's the thing for us and then a rest," Sam nattered on as he sat out the contents of the basket and Aragorn watched both with a grin.
After they had eaten, Frodo preferring more the company of the tree than the food, much to Sam's concern, they rose and walked slowly about the rose bushes and other gaily colored perennials that adorned the grove. Frodo's eyes would periodically widen or a small inhalation would be heard, as he would touch a small blossom. Sam would smile proudly each time Frodo gently caressed one of his plantings knowing that, on a deeper level, Frodo was improving and truly enjoying the small garden spot. Eventually, however, the whole experience began to catch up with his master and he finally had to lay down on the blanket in the shade of the young tree. His blue gaze drifted upwards as he watched the sun wink in and out of the latticework of leaves. His eyes gradually drifted closed and he slept with one hand lightly touching the tree's narrow trunk. After bidding Aragorn good afternoon to attend to some of his many duties as King, Sam had settled next to his master and slept as well.
When Sam awoke it was late afternoon. He turned immediately towards his master and saw that Frodo's bright eyes were watching him, tracking his movements, unlike before. "Master?" He whispered as he reached out and took one of Frodo's pale hands in his own browned ones.
"Sam, I'm…thirsty," was the whispered response.
Sam gulped, "Oh, Mr. Frodo, o' course you are. Here let me get you a sip o' water." Sam hurriedly rummaged through the basket and, with trembling hands, produced a small earthen vessel. He closed his eyes, dreading the turn back around to see the blue eyes, once again, vacant and distant, as before. He swallowed, trying to calm his rapidly beating heart, and swiveled to face the older hobbit. A gasp of surprise escaped his lips as he saw Frodo studying him.
"Oh Sam, I was.... so...lost," Frodo murmured dreamily. He drank deeply of the cool water.
"But you're back with us now, sir," Sam cried; as he pulled Frodo to him in a tight, embrace. "I can't tell you how long I've wanted to hear you speak my name, even in anger, just to hear you speak it, or anythin', again," he sobbed.
"Never.... anger, my Sam. So...tired," Frodo murmured as his eyes slowly drifted closed.
"Course you are, me dear, course you are, you jes' rest, now. You've had a long day, you have," he pulled Frodo close to him, letting the hobbit lay back and rest his head on his lap. He couldn't stop the jubilant smile from lighting up his face as he tenderly stroked the chestnut curls.
"So, he returns," came the wizened voice.
"Aye, an' not soon enough for the likes o' me," Sam sighed.
"I believe, my young gardener, that Frodo has drawn the last small strength he needed for his recovery, from this young sapling," Gandalf said as he gently caressed the pale bark. "When Aragorn and I found it growing on the rocky slopes of the foothills, I felt a power I had not felt since Isildur's reign. That tree, also, had an almost magical energy within its bark - an ability to bring hope and healing to those who were pure of heart and soul. This tree has probably descended from that noble line and we have witnessed the great curative powers it has bestowed upon our dear friend," he whispered reverently.
"Do you really think that's what's happened, Mr. Gandalf, sir?" Sam looked, awe clearly written on his tanned face.
"I do, Sam. I think our friend here," he patted the tree lovingly, "Has given Frodo the extra push he needed to come back to us. I feel the tree somehow, could sense...no, know, what Frodo had done for this world, and that perhaps it recognized a kindred spirit in the lad. This tree is the symbol of a new peace in this Middle Earth, as is Frodo." He held up a hand stopping Sam's argument before it left the hobbit's lips, that his Master wasn't a symbol of anything. "Frodo is a hero for Middle Earth. These two are not all that different, in that regard. It matters little; all that does matter is that he is better at last," he said with a chuckle. "Here Sam, let me carry him back to his room for you." He bent and gently scooped the hobbit into his robes and, with Sam at his heels, made his way back to the healing house. He turned and looked back at the White Tree, "Thank you, Lady, for hearing our supplications," he whispered.
"Aye, thank you, Lady, for bringin' 'em home to us, again," sighed Sam, tearfully.
Gandalf carefully laid the sleeping ringbearer upon the bed. Sam thanked him with a smile, and Gandalf departed with one last look back and, with a sigh of relief, closed the door. Sam removed Frodo's clothing, folding each piece carefully as he did so. He pulled a clean nightshirt over his head and then tucked Frodo under his covers, making sure his master had the proper amount of pillows, and lastly, left an ewer of water by the bed, just in case he awoke and needed to quench his thirst. Frodo slept peacefully. No nightmares assailed him that night; no thoughts of what could have been or would be of his future or his friends; only the peaceful dreams of wafting fields of flowers and, at the center, a white tree swaying in the breeze, inviting him to rest awhile under its bowers in the deep shade.
Merry rose early and made his way down to Frodo's room. He still felt deep remorse for his hasty comments of the day before and sought to make up for it by providing whatever his cousin needed of him. He was determined to be brave, as Aragorn had implied, and see the situation through, no matter the outcome. He swallowed thickly. He felt, in his heart, that Frodo was still with them and making small improvements day by day, but could not get past the image of the hobbit child that had died so long ago from the dreaded wasting disease. When he looked upon Frodo's spent body, it was as if he looked into the past and saw the hobbitling lass at Brandy Hall as they had wrapped her in her burial shroud and placed her in the soil of her home. He shuddered involuntarily. The vision of the frail body of the girl had invoked nightmares for months for the small Meriadoc, and he had panicked upon seeing Frodo in his emaciated condition.
As he neared Frodo's room he saw Sam approaching with a heavily laden tray. He tensed knowing he deserved the tongue-lashing he surely would receive from the gardener. But Sam only smiled and greeted him with a cheery "Good morning, Mr. Merry, and it's a fine morning indeed, sir," thus stunning the Brandybuck into, an altogether uncommon, lack of speech.
"Uh, good morning Sam. I'll take that," he said as he took the tray from Sam. "Let me feed my cousin today and you can take the morning off," he smiled tentatively.
"Well, sir, I'd prefer helping Mr. Frodo meself, if you take my meanin'. There's somethin' I need to tell you afore you go in there..." he began.
"Nonsense Sam. I am perfectly capable of feeding Frodo. You don't need to worry about a thing," he smiled as he entered Frodo's room.
"No sir, that's not what I was tryin' to tell you. Mr. Frodo he..." Sam started again.
"All in good time, Sam. I know he's getting better by the minute and you can wait and tell me about what new improvement there has been after the meal. Let's get some food in this hobbit first," Merry interrupted once again.
Sam smiled to himself, "Whatever you say, Mr. Merry," he relented, knowing that Merry would be in for a big surprise in only a matter of moments. He whispered to the lump that was his master, "Mr. Frodo, time to rise and shine, it is," and he slowly pulled the coverlet back from the burrowed form. Frodo groaned. "Now no complainin', sir. You'd sleep the day away, you would, if your Sam weren't here to pull your sleepy hide outta bed, beggin your pardon, sir," he continued as he opened the shutters and allowed the light to brighten the room. Merry smiled at the gentle cajoling that Sam used, with positive results, on his cousin. Frodo had never been a morning person, preferring to watch the stars until the wee hours of the morning to rising with the sun in anticipation of the day's first meal, like most hobbits. Frodo groaned again and then slowly rolled over. Sam helped him up into a sitting position against the headboard, as he blinked sleepily. Merry was, once again, aghast at the emaciated appearance of his cousin. He could see the bones that pressed yellow against Frodo's skin as the nightshirt slipped off of the skeletal shoulders and grimaced.
Merry forced a cheerful smile onto his face as he poured Frodo a cup of tea lacing it with a generous dollop of honey and then adding cream. "Well, cousin, I haven't been by to see you and for that I am deeply sorry. I remember all of the times you visited me when I was sick, to make sure I ate and napped in order to get better, and I was scared to see what the wasting disease was doing to you. It was selfish and cowardly and, for that, I apologize." He began to tear Frodo's scone into small, bite-sized pieces to be soaked in the tea.
"You're not selfish or cowardly, Merry. You were just frightened, is all, and what are you doing to my scone. Did you wash your hands, Merry? Because it's quite unappetizing to watch you fingering my food if you didn't," Frodo said.
Merry's head shot up so fast Sam could have sworn he heard the tendons snap. "What did you say, cousin?" Merry gasped.
"I said why are you tearing my scone into smithereens and that you weren't a coward or selfish, either, for that matter," Frodo's mouth quirked into the barest of smiles.
"You talked. You talked..." Merry whispered in amazement.
"Of course I talked you silly Brandybuck. Close your mouth, Merry, you look like a fish," Frodo chuckled.
Merry launched himself across the bed, upsetting the tray, and crushed his cousin to him. "Oh Frodo, I was sure you were going to die. I was so sure and so scared and poor Pippin has been so worried he hasn't eaten or slept...and here you are well and," he suddenly broke into huge, wracking sobs as he clutched Frodo to him, sure that he was dreaming and terrified that if he let go, he would wake up to find his cousin's condition unchanged or worse.
"There, there, Merry," Frodo murmured. "Don't carry on so. I'm going to be just fine, you'll see. And as to Pippin...not eating? This is dire, indeed. We must go to him so that he can see for himself that everything is going to be alright," Frodo said with concern. Pippin had been so sick, and to think that he hadn't been sleeping or eating, which had never occurred as far back as Frodo could remember. This caused the elder hobbit to feel sudden anguish at how his condition had affected those around him.
Merry pulled back and studied Frodo's pale face. He wiped the tears from his red eyes and looked over at Sam, who had a huge smile plastered on his face. "You knew. You knew and you didn't say a word," he growled.
"Beggin' your pardon, sir, but I tried a couple o' times ta tell ya, but you kept interruptin', so I decided to just let it be a surprise, o' sorts." Sam's smile faded from his face as he looked at Merry. "I'm right sorry, Mr. Merry, if I made you worry. I shoulda' tried harder to tell ya, and, well, I apologize, sir," Sam said, his face a bright red, as he looked down at his toes. He looked as if he was about to get a beating for stealing mushrooms from farmer Maggot and Merry couldn't help feeling regret at his sudden outburst.
"No, Sam, I owe you the apologies. I lost hope but you never wavered once in your care of my cousin. I am so sorry, my friends, for my behavior. And Sam, would you please stop calling me Mr. Merry, and sir. You are my friend and if you don't stop with the 'it's not my place' rubbish...well, I'll just have to start calling you 'Mr. Sam' and 'sir', and 'beggin' your pardon' from now on," Merry smiled. Frodo couldn't help but laugh at the thought of Sam being called 'Mr. Sam', it sounded too ludicrous.
"Mr. Merry!" Sam gasped as his eyes widened. That would be highly improper, sir."
"Well, Mr. Sam, I think you had better get used to the idea right quick, if you take my meanin', sir, because I mean what I say. You are not a servant, you are a friend, beggin' your pardon sir," Merry said, as he gave Sam a stern, unwavering look.
Frodo, by now, was giggling helplessly at Merry's impersonation of Sam. Sam and Merry looked at him and joined in at the ridiculousness of the whole situation.
Finally, the laughter died down to the occasional chuckle, and Frodo looked up at Sam, his eyes bright with happiness. "Sam help me find a dressing gown or some clothes and let's go see Pippin."
"But Mr. Frodo, you haven't had your breakfast, sir," Sam said aghast.
"Why don't we have our first breakfast with Pip?" said Merry. "He never gets out of bed this early, so I know he hasn't eaten."
"That's a marvelous idea, Mer'. Sam, would you mind arranging to have some food brought up for four hungry hobbits?" he asked, his eyes sparkling.
"Not at all, Mr. Frodo. But what about getting you dressed sir?"
"I'll take care of that, Sam. You go fetch the food and I promise to have Frodo all ready by the time you get back," Merry said. Sam ran out to get the food as Merry began rummaging through Frodo's wardrobe for a pair of pants. He kept looking back at his cousin just to make sure he wasn't dreaming and that he really was sitting there in apparent good health.
Frodo drank his tea and looked up at Merry. "Merry, you are making me crazy looking at me every ten seconds, like that. Do I have food on my face or have I grown another nose?" he chuckled.
"I just can't believe you're better; I have to keep checking, sure that I am dreaming this whole thing," he smiled.
"It was the White Tree, Mer. When I touched it it was as if a shock ran through my body," Frodo's face took on a distant look, and if he hadn't had the small smile that touched his lips, Merry would have thought that he had left them once again. "Words fail me trying to describe the feeling of utter and complete contentment and happiness the tree imparted to me. It was as if I was enveloped in the loving arms of my mother, and I felt warm and loved beyond what anyone could ever imagine." Frodo looked up at Merry, his blue eyes locking with brown, and Merry could see that this was very important to Frodo to try and convey the sensation that he had shared with the sapling. "It was like hearing a sweet song and as I was pulled closer and closer trying to make out the words, I became more and more aware of those around me," he shook his head as he remembered the feeling. "It was a feeling I shall never forget or be able to explain. But it brought me back, Mer'," he smiled softly. "It was wonderful."
Merry's eyes glistened with unshed tears. "And I am so glad you are back, Frodo. I don't know what I would have done if, after all that you'd been through, this horrid disease had taken you from us," he whispered. He swiped at his face and rose from the bed in a burst of sudden energy. "Well, if I don't get you dressed Mr. Sam will have my hide, he will," he laughed. Frodo chuckled anew at the title, as Merry began to pull a shirt over his head. Soon Frodo was dressed, although not as natty as Sam would have done, and ready to go on his walk down to Pippin's room. He slowly swung his legs over the side of the bed as Merry stood ready to catch him if he should stumble.
"I'm all right, Mer' just need to get used to being upright again," Frodo said as he swayed. He had had to close his eyes for a moment as the dizziness assailed him, but recovered quickly and began walking slowly towards the door.
"Humor me, Frodo. I know you can walk, but I want to help too," Merry said as he took one of Frodo's elbows and lent much needed support to the hobbit.
Frodo was appalled at how weak his body had become and leaned heavily into Merry as they traversed, what seemed to Frodo a very long hallway, to see his small cousin. Black dots had begun to appear before his eyes and he worried that he wouldn't be able to complete the distance. By the time they arrived at Pippin's room, Frodo was panting harshly and his face was covered in a slick sheen of sweat. Aragorn was bent over Pippin and speaking softly to the little patient. He turned when he heard the scuffling of feet just as Frodo's legs began to give out beneath him. He crossed the room in two strides and caught Frodo up in his arms.
"Merry, Frodo is not strong enough yet to walk the distance from his room to yours. You should have called for assistance," Aragorn chastised.
"Frodo is just fine, thank you very much, and he was the one that insisted on walking to Pippin's room," Frodo murmured, trying, without, success to sound indignant, but being too close to fainting to pull it off.
Aragorn's face broke into a wide smile as he carried the hobbit over to Pippin and placed him on the bed. "It is good to see you recovered, my dear friend. Gandalf had told me of your speaking with Sam yesterday, but I was uncertain if you would remain aware today, so have not mentioned it to Pippin. I have been trying to rouse him without success. He has slipped into a deep depression," Aragorn's face became a mask of concern. "Perhaps it you spoke with him, he would, once again, become the chatterbox he was before," he smiled, but the smile didn't touch his eyes.
"Just let me catch my breath," Frodo whispered. He turned to his small cousin after a few deep breaths. "Pippin, lad, it's time for you to wake up and have breakfast with your cousin Frodo." Pippin's eyelids twitched slightly. "Merry's going to eat all of the scones if you don't drag yourself out of bed. There's raspberry jam and rashers of bacon and eggs, and that orange juice you love so much, but I'm afraid it will all be gone if you don't open those green eyes very soon." Frodo gently ran his fingers through Pippin's unruly curls as his cousin slowly opened his eyes and peered up at him. His eyes were red-rimmed and Frodo's heart clinched once again, knowing that he had caused the pain that Pippin was feeling.
"Frodo? I'm dreaming again," Pippin said as his chest heaved in a ragged sob. "When I wake up you'll be gone, and I won't have you to talk to or listen to your wonderful stories," he choked.
"No, Pippin, I'm here. This isn't a dream and I am so sorry to have caused you such pain, my dear cousin," Frodo whispered. Pippin's eyes flew open as he pulled Frodo down to him. He sobbed softly as Frodo tried to comfort him. "Now, about that breakfast, Pip, are you interested or not because frankly, I'm starved," Frodo laughed.
"Breakfast? Where is it? Is there really orange juice? I want extra bacon and eggs, Mer'. Where's Sam?" Pippin rattled off his questions as he was gently moved up into a sitting position. Right on cue, Sam entered followed by two other orderlies bearing heavy trays laden with all manner of foods. "Is that all you've brought Sam? What about seconds? There isn't enough food there to feed all of us." Pippin exclaimed as Sam set the trays down. Frodo, Aragorn and Merry broke into relieved smiles and chuckles to see the hobbit come back to himself. Although Pippin seemed like his usual self, Frodo could see that his jests were mostly an act. His face was pallid and his eyes kept losing focus as if he would collapse at any moment. Frodo pulled his cousin closer and together they began to slowly eat the mounds of food before him. Pippin held Frodo's hand tightly as if to reassure himself that he was in the here and now and that his cousin was, indeed, by his side. He picked at the food before him and after eating a scone and some eggs, pushed the plate away stating that he was 'stuffed'. Frodo glanced at Aragorn with concern, but the King only nodded and smiled in reassurance.
Aragorn rose. "Well, gentlemen, since you seem content and well," he looked at Frodo and Pippin and smiled. Pippin grinned impishly back, with a sparkle in his eyes that Aragorn had not seen in days. "I will leave you to attend to some of my duties," he smiled again and left the room to a round of thank you's and farewells.
He paused in the hallway as he listened to the banter and laughter that emanated from the room, then slowly walked down the hallway. He couldn't seem to stop smiling and his heart felt lighter than it had in weeks, as he walked up the incline, followed by his guards, to the Citadel. He stopped at the White Tree and gazed at its beauty. Sam was right; it did seem to grow amazingly fast. He walked over to the tree and placed his hand upon the pale trunk. He was overcome with a feeling of warmth and contentment and somehow knew that the tree was happy in its new home. He sent a silent thank you with his mind and received, in turn, a feeling of love and hope. He somehow knew that as long as the tree lived, his realm would flourish, and he felt a great joy to know that his people would survive to rebuild the damage wrought by the constant cloud of darkness that had surrounded them. He parted from the tree after inhaling deeply of the healing scent of the blossoms and walked up the stairway into the Citadel.
He reclined on the chaise that had been placed purposely in the bright sunlight and drank in the scent of the flowers that surrounded his healed body. Many weeks had passed since the disease had been vanquished and Frodo had regained much of the lost weight and a rosy color had returned to the once pale complexion. He stretched languidly, not unlike a cat after a long nap. Sam worked near his side, weeding the small flowerbed. Merry and Pippin had disappeared, seeking some small source of entertainment, which would, undoubtedly, end with stern reprimands from Frodo and Aragorn and weeks of recompense from the two hobbits. Frodo smiled to himself as he listened to the birds above him in the trees.
"What are you smiling about, Mr. Frodo?" Sam said as he wiped the dirt from his hands.
"Nothing in particular, I just feel good, Sam." He looked up at his friend and was greeted with a beaming smile.
"You deserve to feel good, sir. And I don't mind sayin' it's right nice to hear you say it," he said
A small, red bird landed a few feet from the two hobbits and looked at them curiously. "Look, Mr. Frodo it's that little half starved bird that came to visit you before," Sam said in awe.
"Why I believe you're right, Sam, although how you would know this bird from any other is beyond me. Yet somehow, he does look familiar," Frodo laughed. He reached over to his tray, left over from luncheon, and retrieved half of a small roll. He held the roll in his maimed right hand and waited to see if the bird would take the proffered tidbit. The bird hopped closer, looking warily about him, then flew to Frodo's outstretched hand. He landed on Frodo's wrist and looked up into the hobbit's amazed face. He grabbed a huge portion of the roll and flew to the tree above them. "Sam, did you see that? He actually landed on me," Frodo said in wonder.
"I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it with me own eyes, sir. That was a wonder and no mistake," Sam said in a hushed voice. They looked up at the bird above them and noticed a small nest that lay precariously in the crook of a branch.
"It looks like he's found a mate and started a family," Frodo murmured. "Gondor seems to be recovering for everyone. It's a wonderful thing to behold, don't you think Sam?"
"It is indeed, Mr. Frodo. I can't tell you how grand it is to see things comin' back to themselves as they ought," Sam said with a smile as he studied his master.
"It makes me feel that perhaps, it is possible for all things to recover. It gives me hope, Sam. And some days, I feel as if hope is beyond my reach." Sam looked at his master in concern. "Perhaps the pain and nightmares of those dark days is but a test of our strength. That we are being tried to see how much we can endure," he looked up into Sam's eyes. "That the struggle is what truly makes you stronger. It gives me hope," he whispered.
Sam's eyes glistened with unshed tears. He cleared his throat and looked away, focusing on the beauty of the garden and trying not to think of the darkness that sometimes gripped his master.
"It's a beautiful day, Mr. Frodo," he said cheerfully.
"No, Sam, it's a glorious day," Frodo said as he beamed up at his friend. Sam chuckled and smiled back at his master. He silently swore an oath to himself to try to make all of Frodo's days glorious.
Now, just a parting note to my devoted reviewers:
JesusFreak- I have truly enjoyed your reviews and hope that you will continue to read my fics (see above authors note). That last chapter made me laugh as well. I could just see our hero being pummeled and bruised by his own clumsiness. I know, because I do it all the time.
Frodo's Gal- Thanks for sticking with me and reviewing the story.
Insanelyobsessed- I am so happy you've enjoyed the fic so much. Please feel free to read the other fics (I should have the first posted tomorrow....at least the first chapter or two). I got quite the chuckle out of Frodo's destruction of his room and subsequent bruising and battering just to reach his clothes. I remember laughing as I wrote it. I hope you enjoyed the finale, and will continue to read my stories.
lindahoyland- Thanks so much for faithfully reviewing each chapter for me. Hope you will read my other fics and let me know what you think.
girlofring- I hope you enjoyed the ending and thanks again for your comments.