Title: The Guilt of the Wise
Author: Frodo Baggins of Bag End (FrodoAtBagEnd/Febobe)
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 and some mild medical content (might be 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.
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 (now late) Lorie945. :) :( Actually, I was writing some individual stories, and it was Lorie who suggested that this might make just such a series. . . . Thanks, Lorie - I hope wherever you are, you still know how wonderful and well-missed you are.

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 Fourth: Knowing - Elrond Speaks Again

So it would be.

Arwen would issue the invitation; she would tell Frodo that he would have the choice to sail West with us when we departed Middle-earth for the West.

She would not, however, say what was needful - which was that Frodo could expect to live but a handful of years longer, that his life would likely be greatly shortened by his ordeal.

Needful.

I scoffed darkly at myself as I stood outside Frodo's room, preparing myself to enter. What did I, of all the Free Peoples, know of what was needful? Had I troubled myself over the matter of the Ring?

So one might say, for I prepared and supplied the Fellowship.

Or so people said.

How adequately had I prepared Frodo?

How much preparation had I, who had stood inside the Sammath Naur, alone amongst all the company to have seen that place firsthand, given to the little Ringbearer?

I had spoken little enough of it to him.

And yet...what could I have said of that place? The heat? The roiling lava? The overwhelming dark and light of shadow and flame, like a living balrog surrounding whomever stood there? The oppressiveness of the smoky atmosphere, choking one's breath away with charred ash and smoky heat, the fumes of sulphur and soot?

Perhaps I was afraid.

Afraid of what he might ask me.

Afraid of what I had asked myself every day since his arrival, when he lay pale and cold and still beneath hands, until I prodded gingerly at his wound and caused him to cry out, struggling in pain and fear, fever and chill wracking his tiny body.

Isildur...

We would have perished together, he and I, most likely, for there would have been no eagles' rescue, no Mithrandir to fetch us.

Yet would it not have been better thus? Better for Isildur, better for Middle-earth, better most of all for the little one who lay now suffering in his bed, starved, parched, bitten, beaten, and battered, half-suffocated?

Why did I not, my friend, push you in?

Pushing open the door with a deep inhalation of breath, I made my way to Frodo's bedside on soundless feet, seating myself quietly at his side as I laid a hand across his thin cheekbone.

Still too warm, as if fever still smoldered within his fragile frame.

And so thin...so painfully thin. "Not right at all for a hobbit," as Sam had tearfully explained to us.

No...not right at all.

I thought that I had better try to feed him before sharing such news. Hobbits prefer their bad news on a full stomach...a wise enough decision, I had concluded over the years. And Frodo could ill afford to miss a mouthful of nourishment. He needed the most soothing, comforting, calming food we could provide, and I did not regret my decision to have something suitable prepared before coming up to see him.

"Frodo."

Soft blue eyes opened, gazing up at me. "Is it...what time...is it?"

"Nearly time for supper. How do you feel?"

"Tired...very tired. But...hungry too." He mustered a small smile. "I had a nice lunch. Arwen brought soup for me. Vegetables and chicken all cut up into little bits in a nice broth. And mashed potatoes with carrots."

I could not resist a smile despite my own concerns about him. "Arwen adores you."

"And I her." He blinked drowsily. "I had a frighful dream, all about - about there, and there were orcs, and giant spiders, and - and - Gollum, and worst of all was the Eye...but then she came and made it all better; she woke me and talked to me for a long time."

"What did you two talk about? If I may ask." Half of me wanted him to say Arwen had told him, had gotten it over with after all, that he knew.

"Mushrooms."

Ah.

"Mushrooms and potatoes...and applesauce too. And she wanted me to help her plan what I want at the feast we shall have when I am better." He smiled, and I thought I saw a flicker of light dance through the hollow eyes. "She promised I could sit by her."

"I look forward to that day, Frodo."

A knock at the door heralded the arrival of the tray I had requested, and I rose to take it from Legolas, who handed it in with eyes full of sorrow. He had seen Frodo since their return. He knew what I had to say to the little one, even without being told.

The tray was, as I had instructed, filled with miniature dishes and feeding-cups - as one might use for a small child, so as not to overwhelm Frodo with too much of any one thing. But now that he could eat in a manner and amount a little more suitable to a hobbit, we wanted to encourage him, and so there were more than half a dozen items for his enjoyment.

Sweet Eru, it was the least we could do, to provide him with something pleasant and healthful now. Too little, too late.

"Shall we see what we have for you this time?"

He nodded, allowing me to prop him on pillows and arrange the tray before him, lifting covers to reveal an array of soft and liquid foods: blueberry custard...turkey soup with rice...creamy mushroom soup...scrambled eggs in potato nests...rice-pudding with dried cherries...shirred eggs with mushrooms...a little dish of strawberry ice-cream...peaches with strawberries and sweet white wine...a feeding-cup of milk-punch.

His eyes lit up, much to my relief, and quietly he allowed me to feed him, helping him nurse at the cupfuls of liquid, touching small half-spoonfuls of custard and pudding, egg and potato and mushroom and ice-cream and fruit in wine to his lips. It took what seemed, no doubt, a great deal longer than it really was, and yet all too soon I was sending back the finished tray and bracing myself for what must inevitably come.

"I will die."

Blinking, startled, I turned. Frodo was looking at me, clear-eyed and calm, but I could hear a note of anxiety in his voice. "What makes you say such things, tithen min?" I ventured at last.

"I know it. I don't know how, but I know it. It's different than any other time I've been ill. I don't feel I have a great deal of time left...oh, it isn't today, or tomorrow, I'm sure, or even next week or next month." He hesitated. "But I shan't live to see sixty...shall I?"

I crossed back to the bed and cradled his injured hand in my palm, so large as it closed around tiny fingers and stub, around the scars and bandages. "Nay, Frodo. I fear that you shall not."

"Then..." He drew a shuddery breath. "I should like to see Bilbo, if I am well enough to travel before then. I should like to see him once more...and...perhaps the Shire too; I must think on it."

"I think you will be well enough to see what your heart most desires to see before you depart this world." There, no lies. "Would you permit us to give you what succour we can provide, when the time comes...and until then?"

He nodded firmly. "Yes, please."

"Then rest, and know that you shall have all the comfort that it is possible for us to give." I raised my other hand to stroke his dark curls. "Rest, Frodo. I shall not abandon you...nor shall my family."

-to be continued-