Twists of Fate (Formerly called Elwen's Challenge Fic) Chapter One
Author: Elwen, with subsequent chapters by Lovethosehobbits
Frodo fastened the top button of his jacket and pulled his cloak more closely about him as he settled his pack higher upon his back.
What had possessed him to go hiking at this time of year? He looked down at his legs. They were splattered in mud from his toes to his knees, the hair on his feet caked with it. He let his eyes drift up to the surrounding trees and took a deep breath, inhaling the richness of damp loam, the musty smell of rotting leaves, and feeling the prickle of frosty air in his nostrils.
Bag End was big . . . but after two weeks of being shut in by constant rain it was not big enough. It was only his second winter without Bilbo and he was going mad with only his own company. The first winter had been easier for, although he missed his uncle, Merry and Pippin had made a point of visiting him often. But as the year spun around and it looked as though Frodo was settling down to his new role of Master of Bag End the visits had become less frequent.
Sam was a wonderful fellow but he was more at home discussing the merits of runner beans than the subtle nuances of Sindarin grammar, not that Merry and Pippin were much interested in that particular topic of conversation either. Frodo just had to admit that he missed Bilbo.
So as soon as the rain had let up, Frodo had packed a bag and set out for a walk. With the ground so wet he had stayed on the road rather than cutting across country. But now he wasn't so sure that he would not have been better on the lanes, for the constant traffic had churned the road surface to deep mud that squelched between his toes and splattered the backs of his legs. It was also quite slippery in places, where patches of yellow clay were exposed, and there were times when Frodo felt more like a skater than a walker.
He sat upon a large boulder to eat a sandwich but had not the heart to finish it. The day was turning quite cold and he finally admitted defeat and turned for home, preceded by the steaming plume of his own breath on the chill November air.
The road began to climb slowly about the rim of a low hill and the going became more slippery as the gentle gradient added to the problems of clay and water. Frodo found himself lurching from tree trunk to tree trunk eyeing the, at times quite steep, drop to his left with some trepidation. He paused as he came to a particularly large and sticky patch of yellow clay that seemed to cover the whole of the road ahead.
Frodo remembered having difficulty with this section on the way down, only just managing to navigate it without falling. Now it seemed to be worse. The only way across appeared to be to walk along the very edge of the steep drop, where the ground had not been churned up by pony and cart. It was not going to be easy but hobbits are sure footed and so Frodo simply hitched his pack higher on his back once more and began to pick his way across.
Just as he was about to reach the relative safety of the far side Frodo encountered a low hanging branch from one of the trees planted on the slope below. He ducked almost double to move beneath it, thankful that he was a hobbit and not a man but gasped as something pulled him back. He tugged experimentally but whatever held him would not let go. Turning to look over his shoulder, Frodo finally found the source of his difficulties. The buckle on his backpack was caught on a twig. He tried to reach back, feeling his way with his fingers, but the action unbalanced him and he put out his right foot instinctively. It landed in a patch of slick yellow clay and began to slide sideways, unbalancing him further . . .
The twig snapped and the world lurched sideways, spinning out of control, a kaleidoscope of tree branches and ground whirling past him. His vision was suddenly filled with a dark shape, there was a loud crack, an instant of sharp pain in his head and then . . . nothing.
Pain. Sharp slivers of pain lancing through his head with each heartbeat, spearing all coherent thought. He had no inkling of where he was and no memory of how he got there. Frodo's whole world focused on the slicing agony in his head. This was worse than the morning after an extended evening with Merry and Pippin at the Green
Over an indeterminate period of time, the pain grew familiar and Frodo was able to think past it. Where was he? Perhaps he should try to look around. He tried issuing a command to his distant body.
"Open your eyes, Frodo Baggins."
The body of Frodo Baggins considered for some time, finally dredging up from memory the necessary sequence of muscle movement to open eyes. The necessary instructions for closing them were recalled much more quickly as he was assailed by a brightness that further intensified the white-hot needles piercing his head. Frodo Baggins was nothing, if not determined however and he pried his eyelids open once more, narrowing them to reduce the light level.
A field of dark brown, with a pale splodge in the centre. He concentrated and the splodge slowly coalesced into a hand, resting upon leaf mould. Perhaps it was his hand? If he tried to move it he would find out.
"Move your hand, Frodo."
The fingers twitched. He tried again and moaned as pain flared in his wrist. It was his hand then. And it hurt. His mind was attached to a head that hurt and a hand that hurt. Frodo swallowed in a dry throat as panic began to take over. What if everything else
hurt too? The thought intensified the sharp daggers of pain in his head and his vision began to blur to a vague brown and beige mist that grew darker and darker . . .
Cold. Wave upon wave of shivers shook him and the chattering of his teeth ran in swift counterpoint to the sharp stab of pain in his head. At least the daylight was not making his eyes hurt as much. It was then that Frodo realized that the reason for this was that the
light was fading. How long had he lain here? He could not spend the night out here.
"You have to get up, Frodo."
He was surprised to hear a faint chuckle and for a moment he thought he had been found. Then he realized that the sound had come from his own throat. A part of his mind had obviously found it amusing that he should want to get up when so far all the body he had been able to find…a head and a hand…had both been very painful. Was he even sure that there was any more body and, if so, whether it hurt or not? He did not want to discover that it hurt.
"You can't stay here after dark, Frodo Baggins. Come on now. Get up. You need legs to get up. Try finding a leg."
He was quite pleased that he had managed to form such a clever thought. Yes. Legs were what he needed. Frodo sorted through the various signals and finally found the correct one to move a leg . . . his left leg. It twitched, and it did not hurt. That was good.
Heartened by this success he found the signals to move the other leg.
He screamed and the world went black again.
Were his eyes open? It was dark but he was almost sure that his eyes were open. It was nice to just lie here. He was not cold any more. The shivering had stopped and even the pain had faded. Had someone given him a blanket? It was very nice of them if they had. He tried to concentrate on sensations. No. There was no blanket. Maybe it had just got warmer.
Frodo smiled. It was nice lying here, all drowsy. Perhaps he should go back to sleep and try to move again in the morning. It must be night if it was dark. A distant part of his mind screamed that this was not safe but he ignored it and closed his eyes. The world drifted away from him and he waved bemusedly from the shore of sleep.
There was a voice. In fact, there was a voice shouting at him. Frodo tried shutting it out and returning to the soothing blankness. He did not want to be shouted at.
"Come along, Frodo. Wake up. You can't go to sleep."
Frodo tried to tell the voice to go away but all that came out was a whimper.
"That's it. Come on now. All the way. Open your eyes."
Frodo clenched them tighter shut. He was comfortable and very sleepy. But the voice grew louder and developed a very hard edge.
"Frodo Baggins. You open your eyes this instant or you will find out what it is like to be on the wrong side of Gandalf the Grey. Believe me. You do not wish to see me uncloaked."
He prised open reluctant eyelids and light and sound and pain flooded in. Frodo cried out in agony as his mind registered so many pain signals that he could not tell where they came from….only that there were too many of them.
Through the sound of his own cries he heard the gruff voice of the wizard once more. This time it was soothing and low.
"I know. I know. It hurts. Shhhhhh. It's all right. I can help you. But you must stay awake."
The little hobbit became aware at last of other sensations. A large hand rubbing his back and warmth seeping from it. The sudden weight of something draped over him and a little more warmth as the cold air was shut off from his body and always the now soothing, familiar voice. Slowly, Frodo's cries died down and he clung to Gandalf's voice. It was calming and the warmth was nice. The gentle rubbing of his back was soothing and Frodo began to drift once more, his eyelids drooping.
"No, young hobbit. Open your eyes. Speak to me. Come on. You cannot go back to sleep. Tell me your name."
"You know my name," Frodo mumbled testily.
"I may have it wrong. All hobbits look alike to a wizard. Tell me your name so I can be sure." As he spoke Frodo could feel the large hands moving over his body gently.
"Frodo Baggins. Please. Let me sleep. So sleepy."
"Keep those eyes open. Come on, now. Where do you live? This is the Shire. There are lots of Baggins'. How do I know you're the right Frodo Baggins?"
Frodo sighed and then cried out as the hands found his right leg.
"I am sorry, Frodo. Where did you say you lived?"
"Hobbiton," he cried. "Bag End, Hobbiton."
"Ahh. Then you must be the nephew of a friend of mine. What was his name, now?" The hands found Frodo's right wrist and the little hobbit winced. It was obvious that Gandalf was not going to leave him alone so he decided the easiest course of action was to answer
the questions. Maybe when he ran out of questions he would let Frodo sleep again.
"Bilbo. Bilbo Baggins. You know all this."
"Nonsense. A wizard has far too many other important things to think about than to remember the names of every silly hobbit that crosses his path." Pain flared in Frodo's left arm as the big hands moved on. All this talking was making his headache worse. Why couldn't the wizard just leave him alone? He would be much better if he were
just allowed to sleep. The very thought made Frodo's eyelids droop again.
"Frodo Baggins. You stay awake." The voice held a tone of command that left no room for refusal and Frodo's eyes flew open again. All he could see of Gandalf was a grey homespun covered knee, splattered with mud.
"Well now, Frodo Baggins. You have got yourself in a mess. You have a broken leg, a sprained wrist, a gash on your arm and a nasty bump on your head. Whatever were you doing?"
The knee moved away and Frodo listened to the big person stomping around in the undergrowth. Why did big people always move so noisily?
"Walking indeed. More like rolling, from the state of you." The footsteps drew nearer again and the edge of a gray robe crossed Frodo's limited line of vision.
"I slipped," Frodo mumbled crossly. He was getting fed up of all this and just wanted to be left alone. His head ached and he had been pocked and prodded far too much. And now the wizard was insisting on holding the silliest of conversations.
Frodo felt large hands grip his right knee and ankle. "This is going to hurt a bit, I'm afraid. But I can't move you until it is splinted." That was the only warning he got before Gandalf began to stretch and twist the leg. Frodo howled in anguish and a big gray
cloud rolled in and swept him away into merciful oblivion.
The voice was back. Cajoling, wheedling, commanding. Frodo opened his eyes, knowing that ignoring it was not an option. He found himself looking up into Gandalf's kindly face and beyond him the naked branches of winter trees against a grey sky. It was as though
the whole world had turned gray and colorless.
"That's better. Try a sip of this." Frodo whimpered as his head was raised, increasing the painful throbbing but it was worth it when his mouth was filled with liquid. He had not realized how parched his throat was until then and he swallowed greedily. It was not water but it seemed to spread tendrils of comfort through his body from his stomach. His lips tried to follow it when the flask was pulled away and Gandalf chuckled.
"Not too much of it. Here, have some water now." Another flask was put to Frodo's lips and the hobbit accepted the water thankfully. "Good. Now let's get you home to a nice comfortable bed."
Bed. Oh now that sounded wonderful. The reality, however, was not so wonderful. Gandalf slipped an arm beneath Frodo's knees and another beneath his shoulders and gathered the hobbit to his chest as gently as he could but Frodo cried out nonetheless at the jostling of his injuries.
"I am sorry, Frodo. I will be as gentle as I can." For the first time, Frodo noticed that he was wrapped warmly in Gandalf's mantle as the wizard drew it closer, pulling a fold up to shade the hobbit's eyes from the watery sunlight. Once over the initial shock of movement Frodo nestled against the warm chest, breathing in the comfortable scent of Gandalf. The scent he had come to associate with the kindly wizard . . . wood smoke, pipe weed, and herbs. He let his eyes drift shut.
"No, no, Frodo. You cannot go to sleep yet. Stay awake."
Frodo sighed and opened his eyes. More silly conversation.
The walk back to Bag End had been interminable. Gandalf had talked on and on and insisted that Frodo answer him. The initial relief at being warm and not having to make his own way back was soon buried by the agonizing jolt of Gandalf's every step.
All Frodo could see of the world, with the folds of the wizard's mantle close about his face was Gandalf's face and the trees and sky beyond. After a while the swaying movement and constant pain began to take its toll and the young hobbit clenched shut his eyes and lips as he tried to bring his rebellious stomach under control. The wizard would not let him close his eyes however and kept demanding that he open them.
Frodo began to feel angry. It would just serve Gandalf right if Frodo threw up all over him. No. He would not be sick. He could control his body better than that. A wave of heat rolled through his body, followed by a shivering chill that started his teeth chattering again. The wizard's face filled with concern and he drew the mantle closer about his charge.
"Not long now, Frodo. Hold on just a little longer and then you can have a nice soft bed."
Frodo swallowed hard as he felt a small hot surge of liquid bubble up from his stomach. It burned but he managed to control it. Something in the hobbit's face must have alerted Gandalf however and he stopped, looking down into the pain filled eyes.
"What is it, Frodo?"
Another wave of heat flooded his body and Frodo swallowed again as he felt his stomach clench.
"Sick," was all he had time to say before his stomach griped more firmly and he could no longer control it with a swallow. Forewarned, the wizard managed to turn him just enough to ensure that the contents of his stomach landed on the ground, rather than on wizard or hobbit.
When the retching had finished Gandalf resettled Frodo and stepped away, before sitting on a fallen log and offering a swallow of cool water. From one of the many pockets hidden within the folds of his tattered robe the wizard produced a surprisingly clean handkerchief and blotted Frodo's face gently. The hobbit sighed in relief at the release from the feeling of nausea and the stillness, closing his eyes.
"Not yet, my young hobbit. Open your eyes." The instruction was accompanied by a very gentle shaking and Frodo whimpered as pain flared in various places. He opened his eyes to find them captured by Gandalf's ice blue ones. The wizard seemed to look long and hard, moving his hand to shade first one then the other of Frodo's eyes. "I'm sorry, Frodo. You need to stay awake a little longer."
It was too much. The hobbit just wanted to sleep. He wanted to run away from the pain and the cold and the heat. If he could sleep it would go away.
"Please, Gandalf." He could feel the heat of tears flooding his eyes and rolling down the sides of his face into his hair.
"I know," came the soft reply and the handkerchief returned to dab the tears away. "But you have had a nasty knock on the head and you were very cold. It is not safe for you to sleep yet. I am sorry." He pulled Frodo closer to him again and rose slowly. "Come on, now. Just a little further and you can have that bed."
"You keep saying that," Frodo murmured. He felt Gandalf's chuckle through his chest.
"And I meant it," the wizard replied. There was a pause and then the young master of Bag End saw his own door lintel above him and the round ceiling of his hallway. There was another lintel and then Frodo was being lowered onto something soft. He sighed and looked around. He was in his own bedroom. The journey was over.
Frodo closed his eyes and felt himself drift away. Gandalf's voice followed him for a short distance but eventually even he was left behind as Frodo sank down and down and down…….