The characters here and in the following chapters are the property of the Tolkien Estate and New Line Cinema. This story was written for pleasure and not profit
Sauron's hosts charged towards the men of the West, who though greatly outnumbered were determined to fight bravely to the last.
Aragorn swung Anduril as the Orcs pressed round him, stabbing furiously with their spears, each eager to fell Isildur's heir, who had the impudence to challenge their master.
At least his death in battle would be quick, unlike that of the Ring Bearer and his loyal companion, who even as they fought were being cruelly tortured at the hands of these vile creatures.
He shuddered at the memory of Sauron's servant gloating over their anguish at the sight of Frodo's clothing.
There had never been more than a fool's hope, but now even that was gone. He could only hope Arwen and her father would flee over the sea before the enemy reached them, though her brothers who were at his side seemed fated to share the doom of men. Yet, as Elves, they had that hope of sailing to the West but men had none at all unless it be beyond the circles of the world.
He had failed, just like his ancestors before him.
Orc spears jabbed his side but he was hardly aware of the pain in the bitter knowledge that Middle Earth was doomed to darkness.
A rush of wings came towards them and the Orcs fell back. The eagles had come to the aid of the Men of the West, but even they could only delay the inevitable.
Then there came a rumble, which caused the horses to shy. At first low like thunder, it grew louder and the horses neighed in panic as Mount Doom exploded, spewing forth lava and clouds of dust into the already foul air.
The Nazgul's ear piercing screams rent the air as their fell beasts flew back to the shelter of their master's lair.
Then Barad Dur toppled before their very eyes and the host of Orcs, Trolls, and Uruk Hai fled in terror from the field leaving only their human allies to continue the battle.
The Captains of the West bowed their heads and cried out in joy.
"The Bearer has succeeded in his task, the ring is destroyed!"
"What of Frodo and Sam?" Aragorn cried to Gandalf who rode alongside him.
"If they still live, I will save them." The Wizard pledged." See that Shadowfax is cared for!"
He dismounted and ran towards the eagles, which hovered as if waiting for him.
To the amazement of all save Aragorn and the sons of Elrond, he climbed upon an eagle's back and soared from their sight.
The Easterlings and the Harad continued to fight but Aragorn's mind was not on the battle though he continued to fight bravely. His only thoughts were of Frodo and Sam and if they could possibly have survived.
He hardly dared hope after seeing the tokens that the Mouth of Sauron had taunted them with. And yet at least one must have somehow reached Mount Doom and cast the ring into the fire.
The eagles were finally returning. Gandalf sat astride one and two others followed, each bearing a small figure in its talons.
Aragorn turned to the sons of Elrond.
"Lead the armies in my stead. I must see how the Halflings fare."
Legolas and Gimli followed close behind insisting, "We are coming with you."
Aragorn did not argue. He felt he would have need of his companions before the day was done if only to grieve together for their fallen friends.
The eagles flew towards the rear of the field where some tents had been set up to tend the wounded.
The Gondorian healers looked up in amazement as the birds landed and gently lowered their burdens on to the ground. Then with a rush of wings, they were gone.
By the time Aragorn arrived and had dismounted, Gandalf was kneeling beside Frodo and Sam looking grave.
The Hobbits lay limp, unmoving, and barely recognisable under a thick coating of dust from the exploding volcano.
"Do they yet live?" Aragorn asked anxiously.
"Yes, but barely." The Wizard sighed." If ever your skills were needed, my friend, it is now."
"Alas, why did I not think to bring the sons of Elrond? There skill is far greater than mine!" Aragorn lamented as he knelt beside the Hobbits.
"You underestimate the hidden power within you, my friend," Legolas said reassuringly, patting his friend's shoulder.
Aragorn checked both Hobbits for a pulse. At least they both still lived though barely, yet now he was faced with a dreadful dilemma which to try and save first. If only he were not so weary!
Of the two, Sam's pulse was stronger and he would have the better chance of survival whereas Frodo seemed on the very verge of death.
He raised Frodo's head on to his lap and took his right hand, realising with a shock that it was raw, with all the skin rubbed away from the palm.
The left hand was in an even worst condition, dripping blood from a missing finger. He was far beyond the reach of feeling pain in either mangled hand, so Aragorn grasped the right hand firmly while involuntarily flinching at its condition.
He laid his other hand on the hobbit's forehead and cradled him in his arms calling softly "Frodo, Frodo, awake!"
One of the Gondorian healers came forward.
"My Lord Aragorn, there is no need for you to tend the injured. We have skilled healers here."
"These are my friends and I will tend them." Aragorn said in a tone which made the man blanch." If you wish to be of assistance, bring me some athelas and hot water, otherwise be gone!"
The man scurried off. Aragorn continued to call Frodo as he willed his own strength into the dying Hobbit. Legolas, Gimli, and Gandalf stood by hardly daring to breathe.
Aragorn grew pale as he waged an inner struggle to call Frodo back and find some buried spark that still had strength to fight.
. Legolas and Gimli silently moved to kneel supportively either side their friend while Gandalf watched over Sam.
The healer returned a few minutes later with a bowl of steaming water and some athelas leaves. Aragorn breathed on them and crushed two and cast them into the water, while Legolas held the bowl under Frodo's face and waited.
The Hobbit slowly opened pain filled eyes and looked into Aragorn's face. The man's eyes were filled with tears.
"Strider?" he croaked" So thirsty."
Gimli produced a water bottle and Aragorn held it to Frodo's lips. After he had weakly swallowed a few mouthfuls, he started to choke and gasp from the effects of the volcanic fumes. Aragorn continued to hold him, supporting the frail body.
"Leave me, save Sam!" Frodo gasped.
Aragorn looked at him anxiously as he soothed said. "I shall tend to Sam, have no fear!"
Legolas took the Hobbit as he lapsed back into oblivion. He wrapped a makeshift bandage round the bleeding finger then covered him with a blanket and remained there with him, sitting on the ground, supporting him to ease his breathing.
A messenger approached from the battlefield." My lords, the Southerons are launching another assault! They refuse to give in easily"
Gandalf rose to his feet.
"I will return to the field. The Hobbits need the healing hands of the King. What is your will, my Lord?"
"Offer to parley and give mercy to those who surrender and bid them return to their own lands and trouble us no more. Those who still fight, pursue them until they are overthrown." Aragorn commanded.
Gandalf hurried off as Aragorn lifted Sam and propped him against his shoulder. The gardener's hands were if anything even more raw than Frodo's and his head was bleeding from a gash on his brow.
Gimli brought a fresh bowl of steaming water and Aragorn breathed on two athelas leaves then crushed them and cast them into the bowl. He then placed one hand on Sam's brow and took the Hobbit's hand in the other.
"Sam!" he called" Awake my friend, the shadow is past!"
As he called repeatedly, Sam's breathing grew deeper while Aragorn grew pale and his friends feared for his well being as he willed his own life force into Sam.
After what seemed like eternity to the watchers, Sam opened his eyes " Strider! I told Mister Frodo we'd see you again. Where is he?" He asked, the words barely audible through his parched lips.
"He is safe here beside you." Aragorn said gently. "Come, drink a little water!"
Gimli held the water bottle and Sam drank greedily.
"Not too much at once," cautioned Aragorn "You have gone too long without water. Sip it slowly!"
Sam struggled to sit up but fell back weekly against Aragorn's shoulder, moaning with pain. The man, guessing what he wanted, turned him so he could see Frodo.
Sam's eyes widened.
"You do not look much better yourself!" Aragorn said gently." Come I will tend your wounds."
Gimli looked anxious." You are weary, my friend" he said to Aragorn. "Could not the healers tend them now you have called them back?"
"They saved us all. I owe them this at least to bring what healing my power can provide." His tone permitted no argument. "But I would be grateful of your assistance my friends." he added more gently." I will bind Sam's wounds first as he is awake so I will try ease his pain as best I may.
He picked up Sam, while Legolas brought Frodo to an empty tent, which contained several pallets to lie the wounded on and there; they carefully laid the Hobbits down.
Legolas propped up Frodo's head to help him breathe and covered him with a blanket while Gimli hurried off to find towels, bandages, salves, and more hot water.
Aragorn gently started to undo Sam's cloak.
"It's not fitting you should wait on me, Mister Strider," Sam protested.
"It would be a great honour if you would permit me to tend you, Master Samwise." Aragorn replied, sounding rather emotional
Sam nodded weakly. Aragorn gave him more sips of water while waiting for Gimli to return.
Legolas, after seeing Frodo was comfortable, moved across to assist.
"We will bathe you and tend your wounds, then you can rest." Aragorn told Sam as helped by Legolas he gently removed the many layers of Sam's typical Hobbit clothing. He then carefully washed and dried his hands.
The Hobbit was caked in dust and ash from head to toe and much thinner than when they had last seen him
His hands, feet, and knees were red and raw and his arms and legs scratched and bruised but apart from the gash on his head there did not appear to be any serious injuries.
Aragorn felt his limbs and ribs and once satisfied there was no serious damage covered him with a blanket while they bathed him. What worried him the most, as the grime was washed off, were the obvious signs of dehydration.
Sam lay there quietly with a look of obvious discomfort in his eyes at their ministrations.
He kept trying to speak but coughed and choked from the fumes still in his lungs.
Aragorn then bathed his hurts with athelas water and applied salves and bandages. Sam flinched as the raw skin was touched.
"It will soon be over now, "Aragorn soothed, giving him another drink of water "The pain will ease."
"Thank you," Sam murmured "Help Mister Frodo, his poor hand. That Gollum! So very tired!"
Gimli left the tent and returned a few minutes later triumphantly clutching two shirts of finest lawn.
"I've borrowed these off the men for the Hobbits." He announced." I thought they'd need something to wear.
"You've gentle hands for the big folk." Sam murmured as Aragorn secured bandages round his injured hands.
Sam smiled sleepily as Aragorn gently eased the shirt over his head and pulled it down until it reached almost to his toes before laying him carefully back on the pallet.
"Gimli, keep giving him water and maybe a little broth." Aragorn instructed, "I fear he has suffered severe deprivation of food and drink. Legolas, assist me with Frodo!"
"Gladly" agreed the Elf as they moved to where Frodo lay.
They lifted Frodo and removed his cloak. Much to their horror and surprise, underneath he wore filthy Orc gear, a tunic and breeches made of the skin of some fell beast.
Aragorn's face was grim as he wondered how his friend had come by such garments. As he and Legolas tried to remove them, Frodo regained consciousness and started to struggle.
"No, No!" he whimpered, "Don't hurt me, no more please!"
"I will not harm you." Aragorn soothed.
"You can't have it's mine!" Frodo screamed putting his hand to his neck. "Get back! No more, no more!"
Aragorn caught his wrists gently but firmly and looked him straight in the eye but Frodo's gaze held no recognition. He continued to struggle weakly.
"Alas," said Legolas. "We must tend his wounds but how can we do so without causing him great distress? The fever is upon him."
Aragorn laid a hand on Frodo's brow and murmured something in a language even Legolas did not understand. Frodo sighed and then went limp.
Aragorn pulled the filthy tunic over Frodo's head while Legolas removed the rough breeches. The Hobbit wore no other clothing and the rough material had badly chafed his delicate skin. Both man and Elf gasped in horror at the injuries now revealed.
A great wheal lay across Frodo's side while at his neck a strange swelling suggested some sort of bite. His entire body was covered with bruises scratches and worst of all Orc claw marks.
"How he has suffered! A marvel that one so small could endure so much!" Aragorn exclaimed with a catch in his voice.
He remembered tending Frodo after they escaped from Moria and thinking then he was painfully thin then, but now little remained of him save skin and bone with every rib and joint clearly visible.
He wondered had he done the right thing to revive him to so much suffering. Pushing such thoughts aside, he turned to Legolas and together they bathed their friend in water in which athelas leaves had been crushed before anointing all the hurts with salves after Aragorn had gently felt Frodo's ribs and limbs for any fractures. He seemed so frail, he almost feared to touch him, however carefully.
"I think some of these injuries are a week or two old," he told Legolas "But they were unable to heal because of lack of nourishment and these coarse garments he wore."
"Shall I throw them away?" asked Legolas eying the Orc garments with great distaste.
"No," Aragorn answered, "He destroyed the One Ring wearing such rags. We must see they are cleaned and kept with honour."
Legolas shook his head at the strange ways of humans but said nothing as he covered Frodo with a soft blanket and then held out the injured hand for Aragorn to clean and bandage.
"A strange wound, this." the man remarked, "It looks as if the finger were bitten off. Maybe by Gollum as he has sharp teeth, as I remember to my cost."
The injuries finally tended, Legolas lifted Frodo while Aragorn dressed him in a shirt, which hung loosely from his wasted body once smoothed down.
Aragorn sighed. "I am weary. I have done all I can but now must rest."
"Shall I assist you to your tent my friend?" asked Legolas.
"No, I will stay here with the Hobbits." Aragorn said and stretched himself out on one of the spare pallets. "They may require more tending when they wake other than food and water."
"I wonder where Master Peregrin is?" mused Gimli "The worst of the battle is over .I would have thought he would have sought out his kinsmen by now. My heart fears for him."
"Why not seek him out then?" Aragorn suggested." I am here to care for Frodo and Sam"
Gimli rose to his feet. "That I will do," he said" Master Elf, will you come with me? Your keen eyes are needed here!"
"I too am anxious for our friend," replied Legolas though by his glance towards Aragorn, it was uncertain to which friend he was referring.
"Go and find Pippin and bring him here to his kinsfolk." Aragorn said, "I can both rest and care for our friends while you are gone. Ask someone to bring some broth for the Hobbits"
He settled himself on the pallet positioned between Frodo and Sam resisting the urge to close his eyes and give way to the weariness that threatened to overwhelm him, as he gave Sam more sips of water and waited for Frodo to regain consciousness.
He kept looking at Frodo wondering just what tortures and hardships his small friend had endured.
Placing a hand on his brow, he noticed to his dismay that Frodo's fever was rising. He was still puzzled by the mark on his neck. Sam must have noticed his scrutiny as he murmured. "Giant spider couldn't protect him. Shouldn't have left him."
"It is not your fault, Sam." Aragorn soothed realising with dismay that Frodo had been bitten by Sauron's famed 'cat' He pulled Frodo's shirt aside to reveal the small white mark left a few months ago by the Morgul blade. Was it imagination or did it still feel cold compared to the surrounding skin? Such wounds were said to never heal and he feared greatly for Frodo especially now yet another creature of the enemy had wounded him.
Frodo must have felt the gentle touch as his eyes flickered open. Aragorn tried to get him to take some water. He drank it but there was no sign of recognition, only fear in the pain filled eyes.
A servant then arrived with some nourishing broth for the Hobbits. Sam, despite spluttering and coughing managed to swallow the small quantities Aragorn spooned in his mouth but Frodo spat it out as if it were some vile Orc brew.
Strengthened by the broth, Sam seemed to want to talk though a combination of his ordeal and the foul air of Mordor made the words emerge with difficulty.
" That Gollum creature led us to the spider that stung Mister Frodo." he said, " I thought he was dead so I took the ring. Then the Orcs came and took him away. I couldn't find him before they hurt him."
He started to cry. Aragorn gently mopped his tears then waited patiently for him to continue. "You showed great courage, Sam. Few would have enough courage to face the Orcs," he said, hoping to calm the sobbing gardener.
"They took his clothes." Sam continued at last "Everything save the ring, which I had. I only wanted to help, not take it. We went to the fire, no food, no water. Mister Frodo faltered on the edge of the fire and claimed the ring. Then that Gollum sneaked up and knocked me out and bit off poor Mister Frodo's finger but he fell in the fire. I couldn't save his poor hand!" He started to sob again.
"Rest now, Sam, you helped Frodo achieve the quest. Do not reproach yourself."
Aragorn laid a hand on Sam's shoulder trying to calm him and gently rubbed his back as a gesture of comfort. He could feel the once plump Hobbit's bones through the thin shirt. Sam relaxed a little but continued to cry quietly.
Healing would be a long and painful process for these two brave Hobbits. Aragorn feared, as not even the powers of his royal ancestors cure a troubled mind. He wondered how best he could help his friends.
His thoughts were interrupted by Legolas bursting into the tent
"Gimli has found Pippin!" he exclaimed. "He lives but I fear he is sorely wounded!"
Aragorn sprang to his feet as Gimli entered carrying what looked like a blood-spattered bundle of rags, apart from the fact that the bundle moaned softly.
"He is the bravest of warriors!" Gimli exclaimed as he lay Pippin down at the far side of the tent. "He slew a great troll and I found him beneath its foul carcass. Had it not been for his foot sticking out, we might never have seen him! He was unconscious but came to his wits as I carried him here."
"Get more hot water, towels and bandages and quickly!" Aragorn ordered as he hastened to Pippin's side. The Hobbit was obviously in great pain and struggling to breathe.
His shoulder was twisted at an odd angle, as was one ankle while his features were caked in the black blood of a troll. The helm, which should have protected his head, was missing and his breastplate was crushed and digging into his flesh from which red blood could be seen oozing.
Aragorn's first fear was that Pippin could be paralysed after being crushed in such a manner but was reassured when Pippin's limbs started to writhe in agony at the dislocations.
He nodded to Legolas, who understood his intent and moved to hold the Hobbit down on the pallet. Thinking it best to do it quickly, Aragorn swiftly and skilfully twisted the shoulder and ankle back into position. Pippin regained full consciousness and screamed in anguish between struggling for breath.
"I am sorry, Pippin." Aragorn said gently, "The pain should ease a little now that is done, though. I wish I had something to give you to ease you more, but I fear we have but few supplies here. There was no other way, alas .Now I must tend your other hurts."
Gimli moved nearer to assist while Legolas went to soothe Sam who was now even more distressed to see another of his friends suffering.
The Dwarf carefully lifted Pippin, so Aragorn could remove the crushed armour and bloodied shirt and breeches beneath.
The task seemed endless, as Aragorn feared any sudden or rough movement could further injure Pippin. Although they guessed his hurts were severe both stifled a cry of horror when they were finally revealed.
Pippin's head was cut with a lump on one side where he must have hit the ground when he fell, his ribs were so badly crushed that not one appeared intact, while his chest and abdomen were covered in red ugly bruises. A deep gash disfigured his shoulder but mercifully that seemed to be the only wound that was bleeding.
Very slowly and gently, Aragorn felt the injuries as Pippin whimpered at each touch and caused the man almost as much anguish as his small friend. He inwardly cursed himself for ever allowing the Hobbit to accompany the host to the Black Gate.
"Am I going to die?" Pippin whimpered.
An expression of relief softened Aragorn's grim features. "Not today, I think! The troll crushed your ribs." He told Pippin "But I do not think any have pierced your lungs, nor do I think you are bleeding within, though only time will tell for certain. I shall bathe and bind your ribs and apply cold compresses to ease the bruises and stop any bleeding. Then I shall have to stitch your shoulder. Your head needs bandaging too."
Gimli brought some warm water and cloths and laid them down by the pallet while Aragorn reached inside his pouch for two athelas leaves. He breathed on them before crushing them and casting them in the water. The scent seemed to calm Pippin and give new strength to those who tended him while Aragorn washed the troll's blood from his face revealing several large bruises in so doing. When he started to cleanse the injuries on Pippin's small body the Hobbit cried out.
"It hurts so much! Let me be!" The tears trickled down his freshly washed face and he looked at Aragorn with such anguish in his eyes that man was unable to return his gaze for fear of betraying his own emotions.
No one spoke and the silence in the tent was broken only by Sam's sobbing "Don't hurt him, Mister Strider, please!" he begged.
Aragorn paused in his ministrations, well aware that even the lightest touch of the cloth on the injured ribs would cause near unbearable pain.
"Can't you do anything?" Gimli's words were more a plea than a question.
"Maybe." the expression on Aragorn's face was unreadable. He put down the cloth and knelt beside Pippin stretching his hands out towards the injured ribs. Pippin looked at him with a mixture of fear and pleading not to have his ribs touched again.
"I shall have to clean your wounds, Pippin." Aragorn said, "They could become infected."
"I know" Pippin's breathing seemed to have become even shallower as he whispered. "But it hurts so much."
" I will try something that might ease you first." Aragorn told him, spreading his hands over the injured ribs; Pippin flinched in expectation of the pain of being touched but Aragorn's hands stayed about an inch away from his injuries. The man shut his eyes and chanted something that none of those present could understand.
Pippin hardly dared look for fear of what next would be done to him but to his surprise, he felt a heat emanating from Aragorn's hands, which permeated his ribs and greatly eased the pain.
Aragorn opened his eyes and Gimli noticed he was breathing heavily as if in pain himself.
"Hand me the basin while he is eased a little." was all he said, as he continued to bathe the shattered ribcage and then the bruises and last of all the gashes on Pippin's shoulder and head.
Pippin did not cry out again, not even when Aragorn stitched his shoulder and only whimpered slightly as the man tended the shattered bones and bound them tightly.
The effects of whatever power he had used to ease Pippin's pain lasted until after Aragorn and Gimli applied the compresses and were swathing him in blankets when he started to whimper again.
"It hurts, everything hurts." he said, struggling to rise and then fell back against the blankets.
"Has he fainted?" asked Gimli. "It would have been better had that happened before we started to tend his wounds. It would have spared him much pain."
Aragorn felt for a pulse and gasped in alarm. "His pulse is weak and he scarcely breathes." he said, " I fear his hurts are too much for his brave heart to bear. Alas that I am so weary!"
He hesitated for a few seconds then he knelt beside Pippin and Legolas' keen Elvish hearing discerned the words. "Alas Arwen, alas, I fear we may not meet again now. I had hoped soon to make you my Queen, but I cannot fail this small one."
Aragorn took Pippin's right hand in his own and laid his left on his brow and called, "Pippin, awake and live, listen to me! Your wounds will heal and you will be well."
The onlookers saw some colour gradually return to Pippin's features but Aragorn grew pale as he called the Hobbit.
Gimli rushed to get more athelas but as he returned, Pippin was already opening his eyes.
"What happened?" he asked
"All will be well now, Pippin, rest." Aragorn soothed, then to the horror of his friends he collapsed beside the Hobbit.