Aragorn tried to get to his feet and found himself swaying. Eomer and Legolas caught him in their strong arms and led him back to his own bed.
Gimli went to soothe the other Hobbits.
Aragorn slumped wearily on his pallet still supported by his friends.
"Are you injured?" asked Eomer "Let me see!"
"I do not think so." Aragorn said, but to their surprise made no protest as Eomer pulled up his tunic. The bandages appeared unstained much to their relief. He shook his head as Eomer made to undo the bandages but the King of Rohan ignored him and continued unwrapping them.
When the wound was uncovered, it was found to be bleeding slightly, but no great damage appeared to have been caused though Aragorn already had so many bruises, it was almost impossible to tell if he had acquired more.
Legolas brought water and salves leaving Eomer to bathe it and apply a clean dressing.
"Should it be bleeding like that? " Eomer asked anxiously as Aragorn looked down at it, grimacing with a mixture of pain and degust at his own inability to help himself
"Sam had not enough strength to do any real damage." he said wearily." He just knocked it. It looks clean enough."
"You must tell us if it gets worse." Legolas insisted.
Aragorn nodded." It is not that my wounds that trouble me, my friends, but how to help the Hobbits. I feel that I have failed them. Their bodies are healing but their minds are deeply troubled. First I thought only Frodo was affected but now I see Sam is just as disturbed, maybe because he carried that accursed ring too. There is only one thing left I could do to try and help them. I do not like doing it, yet wonder if it is the only way left "
"Will it harm you?" Eomer asked suspiciously.
Aragorn shook his head "No but it imposes my will upon them which I dislike doing. I have the power to make them fall into a deep healing sleep without dreams. They will wake briefly just to take food and drink but remember nothing."
"That sounds a good idea." Legolas replied, "Yet when they awaken, will not everything trouble them the same as before?"
"When I was in hiding from the enemy, I learned many ways to protect myself." Aragorn explained. "One such method was to cause anyone to forget seeing me over the past few days. So I could make the Hobbits forget all the events of the past days, and all the pain and distress.
"Then do it for all our sakes!" exclaimed Eomer as Legolas nodded agreement.
"It must be for their sake, not ours." Aragorn insisted.
"It breaks my heart to see them so distressed," said Gimli." You could best help them by letting them sleep."
"What of Pippin?" asked Legolas.
"His body is great pain but not his mind." Aragorn replied." I think Pippin must choose for himself.
The sound of Sam crying suddenly interrupted the conversation.
"I will do it now." Aragorn said, sounded resolved. Eomer helped him to his feet and he slowly and painfully made his way to Sam's bedside.
"I know now how I can help you, Sam., he told the troubled Hobbit". Just close your eyes for a moment!"
Aragorn laid his palm on Sam's forehead while gently brushing his eyelids with his fingertips and murmuring something in Elvish. Immediately the Hobbit relaxed and within a minute was sound asleep. Aragorn looked down at him for a moment and then kissed him on the brow.
"Sleep peacefully, brave Master Samwise!" he murmured.
He then moved across to Frodo's bedside and bade him close his eyes too.
" I see such terrors when I try to sleep!" Frodo protested.
"I promise you that will not happen." Aragorn replied.
Frodo reluctantly complied and within moments was in a deep dreamless sleep.
Aragorn bent and kissed him on the forehead as he whispered," Sleep peacefully my valiant friend!"
Aragorn stood for a moment sadly looking down at them and then with Eomer's help made his way to Pippin's bedside.
He came straight to the point.
"I have decided to send Frodo and Sam into a healing sleep to ease their distress." he explained." Now you must choose if you would like that too as your hurts could heal and you would feel no pain."
"Will you be with me if I stay awake?" Pippin asked.
"Yes, I will" Aragorn replied "And soon Merry and Gandalf should be here too."
"I would rather stay awake then. I've been unconscious too long!" said Pippin without hesitation.
"You will continue to feel a great deal of pain, though it should lessen as the days progress" Aragorn warned, flinching as a stab of pain pierced his side and leaning more heavily on Eomer.
"As you can endure it, so will I." Pippin said steadfastly." You probably hurt as much as I do, yet you bear it without complaint, while I am such a coward!"
Aragorn blinked back the tears in his eyes and grasped Pippin's hand.
"Never say you are a coward, Peregrin Took!" he said huskily "You have displayed valour far beyond your strength and your years! If truth be told I will be glad of the company of one so valiant in the days ahead!"
Pippin looked at him in wide-eyed astonishment.
Aragorn collected himself and asked the others to bring hot water, towels, and salves.
"I will see how the poultices are working. I might need to apply some pressure to the wound," he told Pippin, as he sat down beside him "Then I will bathe you and tend your other hurts".
Pippin flinched as the poultice was peeled away from his shoulder.
To Aragorn's great relief the wound was already starting to drain. He washed his hands and then applied slight pressure with his thumbs either side of the wound.
Pippin hissed in pain but the procedure was over within seconds.
Aragorn then gently cleaned round the wound and asked Legolas to prepare another poultice for after the Hobbit was bathed.
"My ribs itch!" Pippin complained when it appeared the strapping was to be left in place.
"I have a salve that would help but it will pain you if I unwrap them." Aragorn warned.
"I would find that easier to endure than this feeling a thousand ants are running over me!" Pippin replied.
Aragorn grinned at his determination as he unfastened the jar.
Gimli supported him while Aragorn unwound the bandage. Pippin gasped in horror at his first clear sight of his bruised and battered rib cage.
"You were under a troll! I was most surprised you still lived" Gimli commented as Aragorn lay a wet cloth across the damaged ribs to bathe them without causing further injury. He then repeated the process with a towel and applied the salve with his fingertips before rewrapping the ribs with a clean bandage.
"That feels much better!" Pippin sighed when the bathing was completed." I just wish it didn't hurt in so many places, even my head and my ankle and my good shoulder ache!"
"You dislocated them when the troll fell on you and you banged your head." Aragorn explained." I have a salve that might help." He opened the jar and rubbed some of its contents into Pippin's head and ankle before turning his attention to his shoulder.
Unlike Sam, Pippin was quite relaxed but looked rather sad.
"What troubles you, Pippin?" Aragorn asked.
"I miss Merry and Sam and Frodo being well enough to talk to and just being with them." Pippin replied rather wistfully.
Aragorn suddenly guessed what was wrong. He had learned Hobbits were affectionate creatures, and Pippin especially so. Impulsively he sat on the edge of Pippin's pallet and with some difficulty eased the Hobbit to a sitting position, taking care not to dislodge the poultice and then leaned him against his least injured shoulder and arranged the blankets round him to cover all but his head and shoulders.
Pippin buried his dark curls against the King's neck and relaxed totally as Aragorn massaged the cream into his shoulder, gently kneading the damaged tissues.
"Am I hurting you?" Pippin asked "I know how much you were hurt as I saw the others tending you."
"My wounds are healing now." Aragorn said avoiding a direct lie "Does this cause you pain as the muscle is damaged?"
Pippin shook his head." No and the cream smells so nice."
He worked slowly, using an Elven massage technique and allowing the young Hobbit to find some comfort in the close proximity of another living being.
Pippin did not speak for a few moments and Aragorn wondered if he were falling asleep.
"Why did you do it?" the Hobbit asked suddenly and burst into tears.
"Do what?" Aragorn asked in bewilderment.
"Risk your life to save me." Pippin explained tearfully.
Legolas and Gimli, who were sitting nearby both groaned at the Hobbit's astuteness.
Taken aback, Aragorn paused in his ministrations. He thought for a moment before resuming.
"Why Strider?" Pippin persisted.
Aragorn decided to answer with a question." If you could save Merry, Frodo or Sam but had to take a risk to do so, would you?" he asked.
"Yes of course." Pippin replied without hesitating.
"And why would you?"
"Because they're my friends!" Pippin said in a tone, which suggested he thought the question foolish.
"You have answered your own question." Aragorn said quietly.
"But I'm just a Hobbit and you're the King!" Pippin exclaimed bewildered.
" A King must always be the servant of his people, I would not deserve that title, if I would not gladly sacrifice my life for my friends." Aragorn said emphatically." And you, Pippin are my friend and I hope you always will consider me yours!"
"I do." Pippin gulped as a tear rolled down his cheek.
Aragorn gently wiped the tear away." I expect you will soon forget all the big folk you met once you return to the Shire and all your friends, not to mention the pretty Hobbit lassies!" He joked, attempting to lighten the mood.
"Indeed I shan't!" Pippin's tone was indignant." I am a Knight of Gondor!"
"Now the ring is destroyed and Sauron defeated, I will not hold you to your pledge, so you are free to return to the Shire." Aragorn replied.
"I shall, as it's my home, but I belong now to Gondor too and would keep my oath to my King if you will have me." Pippin sounded a triple apprehensive as he spoke.
"Indeed I will!" It was Aragorn's turn to wipe a tear away as massaged Pippin's neck and upper back. The Hobbit nuzzled against his shoulder as contentedly as a kitten before eventually falling asleep.
Aragorn gently laid him down and smiled at the sleeping Hobbit. These days had been hard, yet friendship and loyalty had sustained them.
Eomer lingered for another night to satisfy himself that Aragorn was truly on the way to recovery and then after giving the King of Gondor and Arnor many injunctions not to overtax himself, left just after sunrise, riding with all haste to give Gandalf the good tidings.
The next few days passed peacefully, Frodo and Sam slept dreamlessly, unaware of being bathed, changed and rubbed with salves and only dimly aware of half waking to swallow food and water.
After his initial uncertainty, Aragorn now knew he had done the best thing to enable them to heal. He too, rested and slowly regained his strength while tending to Pippin and enjoying his company and that of Legolas And Gimli.
"You haven't smoked your pipe these last days, Strider." Pippin commented on the third day after Eomer left.
"I will soon be crowned King and must put aside such pastimes." Aragorn told him gravely, thinking that if Arwen were to renounce her immortality for him, it was the least he could do in return as Elves found the smell of pipeweed most obnoxious.
"Being King, doesn't sound much fun then, if you can't do as you wish!" Pippin retorted. "If I were King, I would smoke best Longbottom leaf each day and order ten long breaks daily for meals between my duties "
"I fear your kingdom would soon run out of food, Master Peregrin and fall to ruin while you enjoyed yourself, now I shall set a good example!"
Pippin returned the grin. "I never expected anything else your Majesty, I shall have to reform!"
Aragorn laughed. "You only need call me that in public!" he said." And please, Pippin, do not treat me differently when I take the throne. I need someone to keep my feet planted firmly on the ground!"
"We'll make sure of that!" chorused Pippin, Legolas, and Gimli. "You shall see!"
The friends laughed together, knowing that such opportunities would be all too few in the days that lay ahead.
A few days later, the Host, headed by Gandalf, returned from Mordor. He greeted Aragorn with a warm smile but no word passed between them about Aragorn's ordeal as the Wizard merely enquired after the Hobbits and went to greet Pippin and look at Frodo and Sam as they slept on, unaware of his presence.
The sons of Elrond rushed to greet their foster brother with looks of joyful amazement to see him back on his feet, but again no words were spoken as all judged it best that as few as possible should know of how close Middle Earth had come to losing its newly appointed king.
Aragorn was still rather pale and moved stiffly, but only those who knew him well would have attributed it to anything other than fatigue. He was now in charge, but Gandalf, Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth and Eomer shared the burdens of State with him as he recovered.
Early the next morning the first baggage train arrived from Minas Tirith and a small figure jumped from the wagon and ran towards Aragorn, who had been seated under the banner of the White Tree debating with Gandalf and Imrahil.
Both King and Wizard rose to their feet to greet him.
"It's good to see you again!" exclaimed Merry, as the friends embraced." But where is Pippin, and Frodo and Sam?" He looked around anxiously.
"They are recovering well." Aragorn replied.
"What happened to them? Tell me, please!" Merry's features were pale with anxiety.
Aragorn decided a truthful approach was best.
"Frodo and Sam were exhausted, badly dehydrated and starving after their journey through Mordor." the King said quietly, keeping his eyes on Merry's ashen features. "Their bodies are almost healed but their minds were so tormented by their ordeal, they could find no rest, so I sent them into a healing sleep, which they will need to remain in for several days longer yet."
"What about Pippin? Tell me, I beg you!" Merry pleaded, plucking Aragorn's sleeve in his anxiety.
Aragorn smiled reassuringly at the anxious Hobbit.
" Pippin was badly injured yet his powers of recuperation amaze me! He slew a cave troll and it fell on him, crushing his ribs badly, but he is already well on the way to recovery. He has missed you, Merry; I will take you to him now."
Aragorn excused himself to Imrahil and Gandalf, then taking Merry's hand, led the apprehensive Hobbit to a grove of trees where Pippin was sitting propped up on a pallet.
On one side of him, lay Sam and Frodo, sleeping deeply while on the other sat Legolas and Gimli who were engaged in an argument as to whether the wounded would recover faster resting in caves or under trees.
"I fear you cannot embrace him yet, as his ribs are still healing." Aragorn warned Merry.
Pippin looked up and saw his cousin.
"Merry, you've come!" he cried.
"Pippin, I've missed you so much!" Merry clasped his cousin's hand and kissed him warmly on the cheek.
"I've missed you too, but Strider has looked after me well." Pippin replied.
Both cousins then burst into tears as Merry knelt at Pippin's bedside.
Aragorn beckoned to Legolas and Gimli to leave the Hobbits to their reunion. As the King walked away, he found himself brushing away a tear of his own.
"We have made all the preparations for the celebration this afternoon." Imrahil announced." The Minstrels are awaiting your orders. Do you wish the tailors to measure the Hobbits while they still sleep?"
"A good idea." said Gandalf "We need to be certain the new garments will fit properly."
"They should wear them for the celebration and not those filthy rags they wore in Mordor!" Aragorn complained.
"It is fitting that all see them as they were when they saved Middle Earth. No other garments could be nobler." The Wizard replied.
"Well ensure Frodo has at least soft undergarments then." the King insisted." It has taken many days of treatment with salves for his skin to heal."
"I will stay out of sight while you awaken Frodo." Gandalf said, changing the subject." It might alarm him to see me as he believes I fell in Moria."
The tailor bowed deeply and fled as Aragorn approached Frodo's bedside.
"Why are people suddenly so afraid of me?" he asked Eomer. "I could have been transformed into a Warg from the way they treat me!"
"You've become a king." Eomer told him ruefully, "I am learning it has its drawbacks but no doubt we will become accustomed to it."
"Either that or I issue a degree forbidding anyone to run away when they see the king approaching!"
Both men laughed before Aragorn became serious again as he prepared to awaken Frodo.
"Will you fetch Merry and Pippin?" he asked Eomer "It should help Frodo to see his cousins are safe and well. It will be best to awaken Sam until later, as I do not wish him to start worrying about Frodo the instant he wakes up."
When Eomer had gone, Aragorn knelt by Frodo's bedside and hesitantly placed a hand on his brow. He knew it was time for the Ring bearer to awaken as his hurts were now healed and the bandage round his damaged hand was more to prevent him being shocked at the sight of the missing finger, rather than to cover an open wound. Yet he feared he would still awaken to despair and dreaded seeing the fear in Frodo's eyes again.
Taking a deep breath, Aragorn lightly brushed Frodo's eyelids with his fingertips and then took one of the small hands between his own large ones.
"Frodo, awake!" he called.
Frodo slowly opened his eyes and met Aragorn's anxious gaze.
"Strider, where am I, what happened?" he asked.
"You are safe in Ithilien, Frodo. You and Sam achieved the Quest. The eagles rescued you. " Aragorn smiled at the Hobbit.
"The last thing I remember is Sam leading me to higher ground when Mount Doom exploded." Frodo said thoughtfully then became agitated." Sam, where is Sam?
"He is sleeping in the next bed to you. He will awaken soon."
"We're alive, we made it!" Frodo clutched Aragorn's fingers as if to reassure himself that the other were real.
"I remember now."
Aragorn held his breath.
Frodo looked at his bandaged hand. "Gollum bit off my finger and Sam had nothing to bind it with, then there was dust and ash everywhere. We thought we'd never see the Shire again! And how we've here, we're alive and safe." He laughed joyfully.
Aragorn heaved an inward sigh of relief. He patted Frodo on the shoulder and rose to his feet.
Merry came running across the grass and flung his arms around his cousin. Pippin followed more slowly as he had only been able to get out of bed for the first time the previous day.
"Frodo, you're awake, I'm so happy!" The cousins' joyful laughter rang round the field and all who heard it, rejoiced.
Aragorn left the cousins to their joyful reunion. He knew not what the future might hold but today was a time for celebration. His own wounds and those of the Hobbits were healing, Middle Earth was saved from Sauron's evil, and spring had come again, the spring they never thought they'd live to see. Truly, they were blessed by the Valar.