A/N: Book verse, in the same AU as "Flagging Spirit"
Disclaimer: I know next to nothing about wings, much less what it's like to have them/use them. This is my attempt to imagine that, and if you know I went wrong somewhere, please point it out so I can fix it. Thanks!
The five travellers finished their meagre supper and sat in silence around the fire as dusk deepened. At length, when Strider went off into the woods to do whatever it is that Rangers do, Frodo decided now was as good a time as any, and proceeded to take off his cloak -despite the cold- before carefully stretching out his wings. Gingerly folding and flexing, he tried to work out the cramps from days of disuse. If only he could take just a short jaunt across the sky! But he daren't, not with those nearby lurking shadows he and Merry had seen while atop the hill with Strider. Particularly since it was him they were hunting. He sighed and settled down to straighten his feathers before folding up again for who knows how long.
"Cousin, put those away," said Merry from the other side of the fire.
"You're just jealous yours aren't full-grown yet," Frodo teased, still preening.
"That may be, but I also think you're drawing too much attention to yourself. You know they can be seen for miles." Merry did have a point; any hobbit living in or near Hobbiton could tell it was him from afar by the iridescent blues and greens of his feathers. Not like he could help it -the striking colors were inherited from his parents, both of whom had legendary plumage in their day.
"It's almost dark. I don't think it matters," Frodo argued even as he tucked the wings back into place. "But I was finished anyway." He put his cloak back on and huddled closer to the fire, for the night grew colder as it grew darker.
Several hours passed with Strider telling tales of old; the moon had risen over the crest of the hill before the flow of his voice came to a halt. Sam and Merry left the firelight to relieve themselves, but Frodo remained in his seat despite the need to stretch his legs. A cold feeling of dread and foreboding clutched his heart now that Strider was silent. He shuddered; he would not leave the dell for all the coin in Middle-Earth.
His feeling proved true moments later when first Sam, then Merry returned, their faces ashen. Dark figures were creeping up the slope. Their small camp surged into motion, Strider issuing orders and the hobbits stumbling to obey. Then they waited, growing more tense with every passing second, their eyes straining to peer through the darkness. The shadows lengthened and grew, until the approaching figures were unmistakable outlines in the moonlight.
Frodo knew not what the others did; his own terror blinded him to all else but the frightful shadows and the sudden, unreasoning desire to put on the Ring. He remembered Gandalf's warning and resisted the impulse, but it so strongly persisted that he was at last compelled to slide the band onto his finger. In an instant, all was terribly clear and he stared with horror and fascination upon the tall white figures that steadily advanced. On an impulse, he drew his sword. The overriding command to put on the Ring now gave way to an equally strident urge: flee!
He slowly withdrew, edging around the fire with small, careful steps, watching his pursuers all the while. Frodo was next to the fire, and would soon be beyond it; he didn't care to singe his wings by trying to fly too close to the fire. A few more steps and he readied himself for flight. He'd never flown with a cloak on before, but he'd just have to hope it would work. A powerful downstroke and he was off the ground, and for a moment he thought he was free.
The illusion was shattered when he stopped suddenly, as if frozen in place. With a sickening dread he faced the tallest opponent, who bore a knife and a sword and wore a crown on his helm. The arm that held the sword was pointed straight at him, though the sword had vanished, and Frodo realized he was being restrained by that simple gesture. He wildly swung his sword at the outstretched arm and cried, "Oh Elbereth! Gilthoniel!"
The knife sank into his shoulder. Blinding pain did not keep him from seeing his adversary turning away, and then he was falling. Frodo crumpled to the ground, awkwardly landing on wing and limb. With effort, he pulled the Ring from his hand and, clutching it tightly, he knew no more.
Sam found Frodo first. He must have cried out when he did so, because his master's cousins were at his side a moment later. "He tried to fly?" Pippin asked incredulously. Sam shrugged indifferently as he patted Frodo's face gently, trying to rouse him. Merry answered, "Seems like it, Pip. But we need to get these put away before Strider sees them."
Sam could just barely discern the tweenager's nod in the darkness outside the campfire's circle of light. All hobbits, from the time they are very young, are cautioned to be protective of their wings once they grow them, and are told stories of the unfortunate souls who flaunted their wings in the presence of Big Folk and suffered for it. Some were kidnapped and made to entertain their captors with acrobatic flight tricks, while others were tortured by curious Men who wanted to see what wings were like and if they could come off. It was enough to frighten a hobbit near senseless, and while Sam didn't think Strider was the type who'd do such things, he was still suspicious of the Man and was relieved the cousins were, too.
Merry and Pippin had shifted Frodo carefully to get the wings out of the way, and in so doing, found the still-bleeding wound in Frodo's shoulder. As they tucked Frodo's cloak over his wings, Sam finally called, "Strider, we've found 'him. He's hurt." The Man's tall shape moved in front of the fire and his voice said, "Good. Pick him up and bring him near the fire. I will return."
But he didn't, not for a long while. Frodo woke up in the meantime, disoriented and babbling about a pale king. Sam answered his questions while Merry kept him still, pressing a cloth carefully against the wound to staunch the bleeding. Pippin hovered anxiously near the huddle, unable to sit still or stand in one place for long, much to Frodo's wan amusement.
When Strider finally returned, he thoroughly questioned Frodo about the attack and grew solemn at Frodo's responses, though the others noted Frodo said nothing of his attempted flight. The Man then instructed Merry and Pippin to fetch water and warm it by the fire while he pulled Sam aside and spoke to him in low tones. Merry watched with anxiety, his stomach knotting painfully as he saw the terror and devastation on the gardener's face, and he had to force himself not to go and give that Man a piece of his mind. Why wasn't he being told the news? He was family! But at least Sam could be counted on to tell all. He would just have to bide his time.
The opportunity came sooner than he expected, since Strider was up and gone again as soon as he was finished with Sam, who returned to the group with a tear-streaked face that he tried ineffectually to wipe with his sleeve. Sam wordlessly assisted with the heating water, helping Pippin carefully move a warmed pan nearer to Frodo while Merry gingerly pulled the blood-encrusted fabric away from the wound, wary of further paining Frodo, who lay in wide-eyed, white-lipped silence.
The first touches of the water on the wound were difficult -Pippin had been holding Frodo's hand to reassure his older cousin and nearly ended up with crushed fingers for it- but once the worst of the blood was gone and the warmth began to work its way inward, Frodo visibly relaxed, as did the other three. Merry saw his chance, and once he'd laid a cloth on the wound to warm the shoulder, he took it. "Sam, what did Strider tell you?"
Sam looked startled, then glanced guiltily down at Frodo, shifted uncomfortably, and opened his mouth to speak. Frodo cut him off before he could begin. "No, don't. I trust Strider had a reason not to speak of it in my hearing. And, really, I just don't want to know. Now, will one of you help me up? I think I landed badly on my wing and I want to take a look at it."
Merry eyed him doubtfully. "We'll help you sit up, and I'll check your wing. Just so you don't hurt yourself further." Frodo sighed, but nodded reluctantly, and Merry took a moment how it should work. "Pippin, get his right side, and Sam, get the left and make sure he doesn't start bleeding again. I'll lift from the back." It took them several minutes to get him up and settled; sitting up made Frodo a bit lightheaded, and he had to lean on Pippin to stay upright. "You're heavier than you look, cousin," Merry teased. "Now can you open up for me? Or should I just do it?"
"I can try," Frodo murmured, and bent his head in thought. The right wing moved according to his will, but the left... he could move it a bit, but it was painful, and it didn't want to move quite right.
"Mr. Merry, sir-" Sam interjected.
"Stop, Frodo," Merry ordered. "I can do the rest." He stepped between the drooping wings, and undid the back fastenings to get Frodo's shirt out of the way so he could see what he was doing. Taking a deep breath, he began by probing around the wing's base.
Frodo stiffened, and Merry was nearly choked by feathers. He lightly smacked the back of Frodo's head. "Relax, or I can't do anything!" he chided. Frodo tried to relax, and his efforts were soon aided by the massaging feel of Merry's hands.
Things went smoothly as Merry worked over the wing base, up the large bone, past the first joint, and started on the small bones. He stopped when he felt something not quite right, and from the sharp gasp, he knew Frodo felt it, too. Merry took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He hadn't expected to find anything and now that he had, he wasn't sure what to do.
"Frodo," he ventured finally. "I'm sorry, but-"
"I know. Just... do it," Frodo interrupted.
Even so, Merry moved his attention to the end of the wing and its tiny bones, creeping up over the second joint and back to the small bones, to find the problem from the other direction. It hadn't disappeared in the meantime; Merry steeled himself and began probing. He remembered there were two bones here -just as in one's forearm- and he could feel one still whole, but the other... he could distinctly feel two ends. In the middle. Where there should just be solid bone.
He gulped. He didn't need to be a healer to know it wasn't right and needed fixing if Frodo were to ever properly use the wing again. Without giving himself time to realize the pain he was inflicting on his poor cousin, without giving himself time to second-guess his instinctual decision, he wrapped one hand around each half of the broken bone and maneuvered the ends until they met in what seemed to be their normal position. Merry dropped his hands; they were shaking, and he felt almost faint. But what about Frodo? "Frodo, are you all right?" he asked anxiously as he came around to face him.
"I'll be fine. How is it?" Frodo replied a little unsteadily between small gasps of air. He face was coated in sweat and extremely pale; Merry expected him to swoon at any moment.
"One of the small bones seems to be broken," he said carefully. "We'll need to keep it straight and still for a while, though I'm not sure how. We can ask Strider when he comes back."
"If he comes back," Sam muttered darkly.
Merry ignored him. "But for now I think you should lie down and rest a while."
Frodo bobbed his head in agreement, keeping his eyes open with difficulty. "That... would be nice..."
Merry arranged the blankets so Sam and Pippin could lay him down on his right side -to keep him off both the wounded shoulder and the broken wing- and Frodo was asleep almost before they finished tucking blankets around him to keep him warm. Merry put a warm cloth on the injured part of the wing as well as on the shoulder; hopefully it would help with the swelling he'd noticed.
Then they let Frodo rest while they withdrew a short distance and engaged in murmured conversation. Sam reported what Strider had told him -he had a gift for repeating other's words from memory (which is why he proved such a useful spy)- and in turn, Merry related the full truth about the wing. Frodo woke often, disturbed by growing discomfort as his arm grew cold and his wing throbbed. They made him as comfortable as they were able, giving him sips of water, covering him carefully, and keeping the fire blazing. When he again slept, the others discussed what to do if Strider didn't return. Just in case.
The sky was grey with approaching dawn when Strider reappeared. Merry was displeased with how long it took the Man to get down to business and actually do something for Frodo, and even then he wanted Frodo to lie on his back so he could tend the shoulder. Frodo shook his head and didn't move; Strider appealed to Sam. "What is the trouble?"
Merry answered him instead. "A bone in his wing is broken. We didn't know how to splint it, so we tucked the blankets around it to keep it against him, and told him not to lie on it."
Strider blinked and rubbed a hand over his face. "I am not practiced in mending wings, but I will do what I can. Who determined it was broken?"
"How could you tell?"
"I felt two ends where there shouldn't have been any." Merry was growing irritated by the questions, but at least Strider was handling the wing carefully after untucking the blankets. The Man nodded absently when he pointed out the spot and, mimicking what Merry had done hours before, felt along the bone.
"You set it?" he asked disbelievingly, and Merry nodded nervously.
"I thought it would be good to do it right away."
"You were right. And you did well." He nodded in seeming satisfaction and motioned for Pippin to bring over some of the water. After throwing a few of the leaves in, he dribbled the mixture over the wing, carefully ruffling the feathers so the restorative could do its work. Once it was doused to his satisfaction, he moved to the shoulder. Merry watched from where he sat next to Frodo, holding his cold hand; Sam was by Frodo's head, continually murmuring reassurances.
When Strider was finished bathing Frodo's wounds, he took a leaf from the water and bound it, along with some soft pads, over the shoulder wound. Then he turned his thoughts to the puzzle of wrapping the wing. But first… "Where is Frodo's shirt?"
Pippin pointed to the grass just beyond the pile of packs. "We took it to try to get the blood out," he said softly, darting a glance at Frodo's prone form.
"Does he have another?"
The tweenager nodded, rummaged around a bit, and produced a clean, albeit rather wrinkled, shirt. Strider had him take it over to Frodo and, after making a few preparations, approached the small huddle of hobbits.
He found Frodo sitting quietly as the others helped him put on his shirt. Pippin buttoned the front, Merry made sure it was lying around the wings properly in back, and Sam brought over a cup of tea. Frodo submitted to their care willingly, and Strider almost didn't want to disturb them, but . . . "It is time," he announced. "Frodo, I'll need to have you sit on this stump, here. I can carry you over, if you like."
"Let 'im finish his tea, first!" Sam broke in.
Strider nodded in acquiescence. "What is it?"
"Willow bark. Thought it might help."
"Good. I should have suggested it myself."
When Frodo finished drinking, he was lifted easily and sat upon a stump rolled over from the woodpile for that very purpose, his wing trailing awkwardly behind him. Merry and Sam gently folded the injured limb as Strider asked, "Would you like me to leave the other wing free, or bind it as well?"
"You may as well bind it; I shan't be using it for a long while," Frodo replied bitterly.
Strider noted the hobbit's tone, but said nothing of it. Instead, he asked, "Gandalf neglected to inform me much in regards to hobbit wings. So, tell me, do all hobbits have them?"
"Yes . . . and no," Frodo replied after some thought. The other hobbits remained silent, seemingly catching on to Strider's intent. "All hobbits grow them, but we aren't born with them."
"Do they begin to grow immediately?" Strider had begun the binding while speaking; his questions seemed to distract Frodo from the pain he might be causing.
"Heavens, no! Can you imagine chasing down a faunt with wings? They're slippery enough just with legs! No, they don't begin to grow until we come of age. So Pippin here hasn't got any, Sam and Merry's are still small, and mine finished growing some time ago."
"How long does it take to become full-grown?" He was halfway done, and the conversation was proving most informative.
"Several years, at least. It can be painful at times, so I can't imagine how it would be if it were quicker than that."
"Arms up a bit, please," he instructed, and Frodo automatically moved to obey.
A moment later, he realized his mistake as a wave of frigid agony swept over him. He would have hunched over in pain had Strider not been holding him upright for the bandaging, so he had to simply bite his lip to keep from whimpering. Even so, all his effort barely moved his left arm; he could have wept in frustration and annoyance. The ever-watchful Sam realized his master's predicament and carefully held the arm out of Strider's way.
By the time the Man finished his ministrations, Frodo had broken out into a cold sweat and was shivering in the autumn air. Merry helped him get his coat back on -which was a little snug, as usually one's wings were outside, not inside- then Pippin helped with Frodo's cloak, Sam draped a blanket atop that, and Strider carried the Frodo-bundle back to the fireside. As Frodo tried to warm up, Sam gathered a bit of breakfast while the others packed up to leave. The accommodation for Frodo's injury resulted in much shuffling and rearranging that he watched with guilt as he only nibbled on what Sam gave him. Strider hoisted him onto Bill and they packed some baggage behind him for him to rest against, a measure Frodo was grateful for, even as he resented his foolishness that made it necessary.
The small group started out toward Rivendell, grateful to be gone from the dell, but mindful of how very far they still had to go, pursued and with Frodo injured, besides. Would he make it? Even Strider could not say, and the worry would weigh heavily on their minds in the long, gloomy days to come.
"Very good, Frodo. Now bring them together," Elrond instructed.
Frodo was sitting on a bench in one of Rivendell's gardens, Bilbo at his side, and Sam, Merry, and Pippin wandering around nearby, as Elrond coaxed him into moving his wings here, there, and everywhere (Elrond was in front of the bench, of course, so he would not be in the way). It was his first outing into the gardens, his first real outing since the Council, and Elrond deemed it time to fully evaluate the condition of his newly-healed wing. Thus, they were outdoors, for all the flapping about would make such a mess indoors.
The elf lord nodded in satisfaction. "Would you like to see if it will bear your weight?" he invited, gesturing to the clearing behind him. This spot in the gardens had been carefully chosen for the purpose, with enough space for Frodo to adequately maneuver, but far enough from the house that he could exercise privately.
Frodo rose and shakily stepped forward, suddenly nervous. He glanced behind him; Sam, Merry, and Pippin had taken up posts around the bench, watching him, and Elrond similarly stepped back to give him room. Once far enough from shrub and tree alike, he took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and let all thoughts drain from his mind. He'd always been fond of sudden takeoffs, being on the ground one second and mid-air the next, but such would not agree with his recent injury. So, slowly, carefully, he began to move his wings, gently building up speed and the strength of each stroke, glorying in the feel of it after so long an absence.
He was nearly to the point where a single, solid push would lift him into the sky when he felt his shoulder begin to tense, the pulling of the muscles in back being countered by the complaint of those in front. He faltered, but pushed on -of course it was going to be uncomfortable the first time!- adjusting the motions to compensate for the pain. But the pain only intensified, until each stroke of wing seemed to drive the blade into his shoulder anew. He clutched his shoulder, grateful his back was to his audience so they could not see his agony, and let his wings come to a fluttering halt. He hung his head and just stood there, kneading his shoulder.
It seemed to take the others a moment to realize he would not try again; then he was surrounded by anxious questions from the three younger hobbits. He answered none of them, but turned to head toward the bench. But he stumbled -now that he was aware of more than just his attempt at flight, he realized how much energy he'd expended in the effort- and was steadied by a large hand on his back.
Elrond said only, "Your shoulder pains you," as he steered the hobbit toward the bench. Frodo sagged onto the sturdy stone while Elrond crouched before him and gently touched the afflicted area. "It may need to heal further before flight is possible," he soothed as his touch melted away some of the pain.
"But it is healed!" Frodo objected. "All that's left is a scar."
"Underneath the skin tissues knit together at different rates," Elrond countered. "What is mended at one level may still be rent at another."
Frodo digested this thoughtfully, but some unease remained. "Will I ever fly again?"
"I do not know," Elrond admitted gravely. "But I do not advise that you try again until after your errand is completed."
Frodo nodded. At length, he said, "It's just as well, I suppose. I could not go flying into Mordor, at any rate." Merry and Pippin were greatly amused by this idea and jested about flying to Mordor and being done with the whole business in an afternoon.
Elrond soon took his leave, allowing the hobbits to enjoy each others' company in private, but Frodo remained contemplative. No matter what Elrond said, he suspected he'd never be capable of flight again . . . and if a simple moment of foolishness took that from him, what might happen to him in the Dark Lord's own land? Lose his life, his very being? He wasn't sure he wanted to find out.