Title: The Guilt of the Wise
Author: Frodo Baggins of Bag End (FrodoAtBagEnd)

E-mail: febobe at yahoo dot com

Characters: Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn, Elrond, Galadriel, Arwen, others to be announced
Rating: PG-13 for dark thematic elements (probably less than PG-13, but rated thus for extra caution). This story falls within the guidelines of the FrodoHealers group in both letter and spirit, free from profanity or sexual content. No graphic medical content this time, either, folks; you're safe. Feedback: Welcomed. Constructive only, please. . .no flaming. Summary: In the aftermath of the Ring's destruction, those who advised the Ringbearer along his way come face to face with Frodo's condition and their own roles in his suffering. (No, this one isn't a deathfic. :) )

Story Notes/Announcements: Title suggested by the wonderful Lorie945. :) Actually, I was writing some individual stories, and it was Lorie who suggested that this might make just such a series. . . . Thanks, Lorie! :D

Fans of "Counterpane" will want to read closely. . . . ;) There's a bit of a teaser here for something that I'll be doing later on!

For permission to reproduce any part of this fanfic, please contact febobe at yahoo dot com.

DISCLAIMER: The characters, places, and story of The Lord of the Rings are the property of J.R.R. Tolkien and consequently of the Tolkien Estate, with select rights by Tolkien Enterprises. This piece appears purely as fanfiction and is not intended to claim ownership of Tolkien's work in any way. Please e-mail me if you have concerns. Original characters presented are my own work; please do not use my creations in your work. Please respect my original contributions. Furthermore, please do NOT consider any treatments or remedies within this story safe or effective for use: these are included as fictitious hobbit care, not real human medical practice, and while some can indeed be traced to actual therapeutic practices, could be dangerous. Please consult your health care professional before treating yourself or others for any condition or symptom.

The Guilt of the Wise

Part the First: Comfort (Gandalf)

Tell me. . .what words of comfort did you give the halfling before you sent him to his doom? The path that you have set him on can only lead to death.

What words indeed?

So glibly I spoke to Frodo that night in Bag End. Had Aragorn not been in Bree and taken such foresight, all might have been lost. . .and even so, thanks to his trust in me, Frodo was left with a wound that he will carry as long as he lives.

However long that may be.

And yet, knowing that, knowing I had already once condemned him to such danger, did I intervene?

No.

I led him into it, aiding the vines which hopelessly entangled him - which, perhaps, do so even now, if still he lives, which I do believe.

What price the world's salvation?

Is it too high if it comes at the cost of one small person with a very large heart?

---------

What words indeed?

Words fail me as I gather him into my arms, a filthy bundle of ash-covered rags, bloody skin and bones, tangled curls matted with dirt and wet with perspiration. Sam was clearly breathing, but Frodo. . .

Hastening, I cradle the still body close to my heart, tears stinging my eyes.

And his breath catches.

His breath.

"Aragorn! Aragorn!"

---------

A catalogue of injuries later, Aragorn steps back, shaking his head.

"Gandalf, he - you realise that he may not - "

"I know."

We say nothing more, for there is nothing more to be said - only work to be done, and plenty of it: a sting at the back of Frodo's neck, and raw open sores from the chafing of the Ring and its chain. . .bruises everywhere. . .whip-weals along his back, legs, and side (and at these, Aragorn's hand tightens to a fist). . .cuts both deep and shallow upon the soles of his feet and the palms of his hands. . .even a missing finger. . . . And to add to all of these, he is painfully thin, his lips dry and cracked to the point of bleeding. These are only the injuries new to us, not those which one or both of us can explain: the scars from the troll's spear, the Witch-King's blade. There has been time enough to see them all, for the necessity of haste has been countered by Frodo's soft whimpers, tiny mewling cries of protest so pitiful to hear that it wrenches the heart. Methodically we have undressed him, removing each article of clothing carefully until our friend lay stripped, covering him with a soft blanket once finished.

"Broth will be too salty," murmurs Aragorn. "It will hurt his lips. Give him water, Gandalf - then we must have a little warm milk, with honey stirred in, not too much - and that in the smallest amounts possible. His wounds, at least, must be cleaned before they can be treated; the rest of him could do with it as well."

We fall to working in silence, Aragorn fetching heated and cooled water and blending the two to produce a suitable bath-mixture, quickly crushing athelas into vessels of hot water and placing them around the head of the bed, where their fragrance will fill the air taken in by Frodo's exhausted body. We take opposite sides of the bed, and I try as I pour a cupful of cool water to avoid noticing that the bath-water swiftly turns reddish-black as Aragorn wrings out his cloth in it.

"Frodo."

Bending over him, I hold the cup to his lips - a tiny feeding-cup, made for some sick child, some small invalid of the citadel - a prince, perhaps, or a steward's son, convalescing from some lengthy illness. Visions of Frodo flash through my head, striking as powefully as an unanticipated blow from behind.

"Gandalf!"

"Ah-ah-ah! Easy now!" But Bilbo laughed, and I could see that he hardly looked angry as Frodo bounced onto his knees, flinging his arms around me - rather, as much of me as he could reach. "Remember, Frodo, plenty of rest. But if you behave and follow orders, perhaps we can bring you into the sitting-room and have supper together there, and stories after, before bedtime."

"Really?" The lad's cry of delight struck me in such an unexpected way: I had met Bilbo's "nephew" before, of course, but had never gotten to spend a great deal of time with him. The little one was like Bilbo - and yet as unlike as could be, a slight figure, too thin, with enormous blue eyes and dark curls, his small body too thin.

"Measles," Bilbo explained grimly as we returned to the kitchen after tucking Frodo in, with some effort required to coax him into yielding for a much-needed (and clearly impending) afternoon nap. "He's been very ill, Gandalf. Almost died. I don't believe I've ever seen such a sick child. The doctor said he needed a great deal of attention during his convalescence - plenty of rest, special foods, peace and quiet - not the sort of things that are easy to get at Brandy Hall, if you take my meaning, if everyone looking after you has other responsibilities, other interests, as they do in this case. So I brought him home to stay at Bag End a few months."

I nodded, sitting to watch as he poured tea for us both, the rich aromas of bubbling mushroom soup and freshly baked gingerbread and strawberry jam-tarts filling the kitchen. "How has he been?"

"The doctor says I'm doing everything all right, but - all the same, it seems there's always something the matter - an ear-ache, or his stomach upset, or he's tired out."

"Perhaps I could sit with him a bit while I'm here - entertain him with a bit of reading and - possibly other things."

Bilbo's tense face lit up. "Could you? He would love that more than anything - he adores you, after all, you know."

Watching Frodo now as I attempted to coax any swallowing effort of him, I sigh.

And I you, lad. I you.

And how have I shown it?

---------

He sleeps.

Thanks to Aragorn, he sleeps at last, when exhaustion and pain would have robbed him of rest. But the hands of a king are indeed the hands of a healer, and Frodo is quiet, lying securely tucked into bed, surrounded by all the comforts of which he has been deprived these many months: soft pillows and blankets, a warm feather-bed, plenty of fresh water for bathing (and that heated to satisfaction, with cloths and soaps provided), nourishment, and medicines.

And water.

Pure, crystalline water.

I have travelled a great deal, walked the world over in form of man. And yet never had I realised until I went to Sam's side what it must have been like for them.

He was awake, for Aragorn insisted upon coaxing Frodo into healing sleep first, Sam being the stronger and in better condition of the two at present. The distinction was, admittedly, a relative one: both were spent, and one wondered how they had lasted this long.

"Mr. Frodo," he pressed, gasping as I sat beside him, already past the shock of seeing me alive and returned. "Has. . .has he. . ."

Gingerly I touched a spoonful of water to his lips, as Aragorn had instructed. He swallowed the contents greedily, and would almost have bitten the bowl off the spoon in his longing for more. I hastened to give it him, so eagerly did he receive it - and he should have plenty, so long as he could take it without choking or becoming ill, Aragorn had urged. "Your master is safe, Sam. Aragorn tends him."

"Has. . .has he. . .had. . .water?" With difficulty the little gardener managed to get out the words. "He'll be thirsty, but. . .he forgets. He. . .needs water. Not. . .had much. . .of it. . .in a while. . . . Give it. . .it. . .to Mr. Frodo. . . ."

My heart wrenched. "No, Sam. It is fine. We have plenty of water for you both to drink. Aragorn has all that Frodo might wish, I assure you. We have been giving him water, and some warm milk with honey to soothe his throat. But it is still very difficult for him to swallow, and Aragorn is doing all that he can. He wishes you to drink and to rest, and to allow us to care for you both now."

I won, thanks only, I believe, to Sam's exhaustion. With a faint nod, he closed his eyes. "Just tell Mr. . . .tell Mr. Frodo. . .his Sam's. . .right here. . . ." he murmured, falling at once into a weary slumber.

Those little ones, from a land of green and growing things, of ponds and streams and little rivers. . .deprived of water.

And I had known.

I must have realised.

Restraining a sigh, I returned to Aragorn's side and waited.

It is all that this wizard can do now.

-to be continued-