Disclaimer: All the characters and settings belong to J.R.R. Tolkien. This story is my way of working out or interpreting ideas and concepts already present in The Lord of the Rings. This is done for enjoyment, and for sharing, but not for profit.
Author's Note: This story was written as part of the Spring Frodo Challenge 2006 for Kelllie who requested "a gen fic that is h/c, heavy on the angst and light on the fluff." She hoped for a scenario in which "the Fellowship is on the Anduin and Frodo gets hit with an arrow from behind, but of course in this alternate reality Frodo is not wearing his mithril vest."
There is one quotation from Tolkien used within this story. To avoid interrupting the flow of the story, I have noted it here: Frodo felt a sudden chill running through him and clutching at his heart; there was a deadly cold, like the memory of an old wound, in his shoulder. (Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, 1954)
On the Anduin
It was the turning that saved him. If Frodo hadn't heard the twang of the arrows before they sped to their targets, he would not have turned towards the sound. He would have been struck between the shoulders.
Instead, the arrow struck him high in the arm on his left side. He fell forward with a cry and dropped his paddle.
"Frodo!" cried Sam, but Aragorn shouted at him to retrieve the paddle.
"Keep paddling," Aragorn said urgently, "or we will all be lost."
Arrows whined as they sought their targets. One arrow pierced Aragorn's hood while another stood quivering in the gunwale by Merry's hand. Merry snatched back his hand and huddled low in the boat.
"Keep paddling," cried Boromir.
Frodo lay in the bottom of the boat in a daze. The fierce, alien cries of the orcs blended with the rushing of the rapids. The shoals grated the bottom of the boat, and arrows streaked overhead to land either with a thok into the wooden boats or with a whisk of a splash into the turbulent river. All was dark around them. The sound flowed together, and Frodo could hear a distant rushing -- a rushing of rapids, and a roaring in his ears.
It came to him that he should regain his paddle, but when he tried to raise himself by his arms, a terrible pain assailed him and his left arm collapsed under him. He lay there panting, not daring to move.
Time dragged by slowly, interminably. Arrows whistled by, the water churned and frothed, and the cries of the Fellowship mingled with those of the orcs.
And then, something touched Frodo's back. It brushed past him and rustled.
"Don't move," whispered Aragorn. "We are at the West Bank, hidden under bushes. Wait and we..."
But Aragorn stopped, and Frodo felt a sudden chill running through him and clutching at his heart; there was a deadly cold, like the memory of an old wound, in his shoulder. Nazgul!
Frodo writhed. The sharp, searing pain in his arm vied with the deadly chill in his chest and he writhed.
Then came a clear, singing note of a bowstring and the cold in his heart melted into the burning of a new wound.
All now was quiet, hushed.
Slowly, cautiously, the boats moved again, swaying sideways as they were coaxed upstream to safe haven.
"Carry it," said Aragorn urgently, and Boromir seized the stern, water splashing around his waist. Aragorn lifted the prow. Carefully, cautiously, the two men lifted the boat, Frodo still inside, and carried it up until they could lay it to rest on the firm shore.
"Get a fire going," cried Boromir. "He will need it."
"And blankets, water -- as quick as you may!" said Aragorn and he bent over the boat. "Frodo," he said urgently. "Can you hear me?"
At first there was no sound, but when Aragorn bent closer, he heard a whisper.
"Don't move me," Frodo said. His eyes were shut and his face wet with sweat. His body was rigid.
"What's wrong," asked Merry. Pippin came running and in his haste he knocked the boat.
Frodo cried out. Shocked, Pippin leaped back, his eyes wide.
"There is an arrow in his arm," said Aragorn tersely. "Do you not see it?"
"Don't move me," begged Frodo.
Aragorn didn't answer but instead looked to where the rest of the Fellowship were hastily making camp. Legolas came running.
"There are blankets laid out," the Elf said, "and Sam is kindling a fire." He stepped closer and peered into the boat. "The arrow is pressed against the curve of the hull. Frodo must be moved."
Aragorn nodded and looked back into the boat. "I know. I am sorry, Frodo," he said and he swiftly but smoothly lifted Frodo out.
Frodo clutched at Aragorn's sleeve, his eyes tightly shut and his body shaking. "Please..." he begged but could not finish.
Aragorn carried Frodo to the blankets, but as he laid Frodo down, the arrow was jostled. Frodo's body arched and he gasped.
"Slowly," murmured Aragorn. "Slowly, Frodo. All right? I've got you. Slowly now."
Trembling, Merry folded his cloak and laid it at the head of the blankets. But as Frodo's legs and hip touched the blankets, Frodo's body spasmed again. Aragorn stilled. "Almost there," he whispered. He cradled Frodo's upper body with one arm and caressed Frodo's forehead for a moment with his hand. "That's it, Frodo. You're almost there." And then he lowered Frodo onto his right side.
"The fire is lit," said Sam. He knelt breathless by Frodo's side. "Is it bad, Strider?"
Aragorn knelt and carefully drew back Frodo's cloak. "I need light," he said. Boromir brought a flaming brand from the fire. Cautiously he parted the torn sleeve from around the arrow shaft and peered at the skin.
Boromir, too, knelt. "The arrowhead has gone in," he said. "We cannot pull it out."
"No, we can't," agreed Aragorn. He gripped Frodo's arm below the site and carefully with the smallest of motions tapped the shaft.
Frodo's cry was shrill.
"Forgive me, Frodo," Aragorn said. "The arrow is rigid. It has struck the bone."
Gimli, unnoticed by the others, dropped to his knees. "Then you may wish to have use of this," he said, and he bore a large stone, flat on one side.
Aragorn peered at the stone and thought. At last he straightened. "Thank you, Gimli. Yes. There is nothing else I can do in the dark."
"Then if you hold the arm, I shall wield the axe," said Gimli. He looked down at Frodo. "I'm sorry, but I shall do it speedily."
"Quickly, then," said Aragorn, "with no time for thought." He laid the stone on the ground and turned Frodo's arm so that the arrow shaft lay across the flat side of the stone. Boromir held the brand close and laid his gloved hand over Frodo's mouth. Before the other hobbits could realize Gimli's intent or protest the action, Gimli seized his axe, made a quick measurement and then struck the shaft.
The splintering of the wood and a muffled wail were mercifully blended into the sound of the rapids, not far in the distance.
"The fire is banked," said Gimli, "and Boromir and Legolas have ringed the boats between the fire and the shore. It is not perfect but we will not be as obvious to prying eyes."
"That is well," said Aragorn. "The orcs, I deem, will not trouble us again tonight. Whatever it was that Legolas brought down -- the loss seems to have brought dismay to our enemies."
"And what of Frodo," asked Merry who came up just then with Boromir.
"There's no more we can do without light," said Aragorn. "We will sleep the rest of the night and then we will tend to him in the morning."
"Can't you at least take the arrow out?" pleaded Merry.
"No, Merry," said Boromir gruffly, but not unkindly. "It is stuck in the bone and the flesh has closed over it. It must be cut out."
None of them had realized that Pippin had joined them.
"But can't you just pull it out?" asked Pippin fearfully. "It went in easily. Wouldn't it come out... if you just gave it... a yank?" But he winced at his own words.
"I am sorry, Pippin," said Aragorn gravely. "It would not. The arrowheads these orcs are using are wide and shallow -- and barbed. If they had been longer, then the blade would not have fully entered Frodo's arm. As it is, the head is buried. That is Frodo's luck, I'm afraid. It is more difficult than it would seem to pull out an arrow if it is buried. And it would do far worse damage.
"No. We must wait until morning light. Two will stand watch tonight: one to guard the camp and one to stay with Frodo. I will take the first watch and look over him."
"And I will guard the camp," said Gimli. "I do not need sleep."
"Very well," said Aragorn. "The rest of you -- get sleep while you may."
"Are you warm enough, Frodo?" asked Aragorn. The rest of the Fellowship save Gimli were sleeping.
"Yes, thank you," Frodo said. He was covered well and laid close to the fire.
Aragorn reached over and touched his fingers to Frodo's forehead. "Try to sleep if you can."
"Sleep is far from me," Frodo said. "I would rather talk if that is all right."
Aragorn nodded. "Very well. What would you like to talk about?"
"I cannot help but think I shamed myself this night," Frodo said. "Even now, I feel the pain so much that I feel I must whimper. I am trying not to. But I am sure that if you, Boromir, Legolas or Gimli had received the arrow instead, you would not be so craven!"
"I'm afraid you're quite wrong, Frodo," said Aragorn. "The arrowhead struck the bone, and that is a grievously painful wound. I have seen strong men brought screaming to the ground from such an injury. No. You have shown restraint, not cowardice."
"Will..." and here Frodo hesitated. "Will the removal be..." He did not finish the sentence. He shifted slightly and bit his lip against the pain from the movement.
"It will be... difficult," said Aragorn. "I'm sorry. I will be as quick as I possibly can, but I will not offer you false comfort."
Frodo gave a weak smile. "Nor would I wish you to."
They both were silent then. All was quiet around them. Only the faint hissing and crackling of the glowing embers could be heard nearby, and further downstream came the rushing of the rapids of Sarn Gebir.
Then Frodo spoke again. "I must ask a favour of you."
Aragorn's hand once again sought Frodo's forehead. "What do you wish?"
"You say that I have shown restraint," answered Frodo. "But when I think of what you may do in the morning, I fear that I will not be able to... to keep that restraint. Can Men?"
Aragorn took a deep breath and then let it out slowly. "No. They cannot."
"Then I beg this of you," said Frodo. "Don't show me kindness. Don't let me hinder you in any way. I fear that I will beg you to stop, or plead with others to intercede. Don't let me do this. I need you to be ruthless, and I need you to be able to do whatever must be done unhindered."
Aragorn laid his hand fully on Frodo's forehead. "I will do as you say."
"The others," continued Frodo, "Merry, Sam... especially Pippin -- none of us has seen this before. They must be made to understand the need for... ruthlessness."
"They will," said Aragorn softly, "although it pains me to know that they, and most of all you, must learn this bitter lesson."
Frodo turned his face towards the embers of the fire. "We have been protected in the Shire. No longer, I think! At least, if we must learn new lessons out here, I hope that hobbits in the Shire may yet continue untroubled. I hope that no orc arrow ever finds a target there!"
"I, too, hope so," said Aragorn. "Rest now. Morning will come all too soon."
Morning came shrouded in mist. The weather had changed in the night, and all felt damp and warmer than the evening before. Sounds were loud about them, and several times the hobbits found themselves talking too freely.
"Why, it feels as if there is a touch of spring in the air," said Sam to Frodo, "even if we must put up with this fog. At least no-one can spy on us over the river, even if they might be able to hear us!"
"Yes," said Frodo in a low voice. "It must be near the end of February now, if we follow what Aragorn said. Spring, Sam. I wonder what changes we will see as we journey south."
"Nothing to the good, I'll warrant," said Sam. "The closer we get to Mordor, the less spring-like it will seem."
"I suppose you're right," said Frodo. "If what Boromir says is true, nothing will be there to show the passage of the seasons." He sighed. "I dearly wish that I could see spring come to the Shire once again. Only a week or two, Sam! But we will not be there to see it."
Pippin crouched down by Frodo's side. "I've brought you some breakfast. It's nothing fancy, but it will be something."
But Aragorn came and took the bowl from Pippin's hands. "No, Pippin. Frodo must not eat anything right now."
"But whyever not?" asked Pippin, rather affronted. "He needs to keep up his strength."
"Come with me, Pippin. You too, Sam." Aragorn knelt by Frodo's side. "We won't be long."
Frodo nodded very slightly and turned his head away.
Legolas remained with Frodo while the others talked together at some distance from the fire. It was not long before the six returned. The three hobbits looked quite pale -- Pippin as if he were about to be sick.
"Pippin," said Aragorn, "you are to tend the fire and keep the water boiling in two pots."
Pippin nodded weakly. "I know my job." He looked over to where Frodo lay and then hastily looked away again.
Gimli bent down over Frodo and pulled back the blankets. He carefully folded them down and tucked them around Frodo's chest. He wrapped the other ends securely around Frodo's legs so that Frodo was cocooned from the chest down. Gimli then sat on his heels astride Frodo's legs and held the blankets securely down on either side of Frodo's body.
Boromir kneeled behind Frodo and gently cradled Frodo's head in his hands. Merry placed his own hands on Frodo's right shoulder, and Sam took Frodo's right hand.
Through this all, Frodo made not a sound, but watched as each of the Fellowship took their positions.
Finally Aragorn and Legolas knelt each by Frodo's left side. As Aragorn laid a cloth on the ground and placed some things upon it, Legolas carefully cut away the sleeve of Frodo's shirt, exposing the wound and the broken remainder of the arrow shaft.
Aragorn turned then and he closely inspected the wound. Finally he sat back with a sigh. "It has begun to redden around the site. I had hoped not to see this. But we will see what we can do."
He then took a cloth and folded it lengthwise into a thick pad. "Frodo," he said softly, and laid his fingers to Frodo's lips. "Open your mouth." Frodo did so, and Aragorn laid the cloth between Frodo's teeth. "And close." Frodo obeyed.
Pippin came with a pot of hot water. Aragorn washed his hands and Legolas did likewise. And then Aragorn said, "Boromir." And Boromir laid his hands on either side of Frodo's face and gently turned him away from view. He kept his hands on Frodo's head.
Frodo trembled but still made no sound.
Legolas straightened Frodo's left arm out to the side and turned it very slightly inward so that the arrow shaft pointed upward. Aragorn took up a small sharp knife. But first he held it out to the fire and touched it briefly to the flames. Once he was satisfied, he brought it back and let it cool for a moment.
"Legolas," he murmured. And Legolas pinned down Frodo's arm. "Everyone," he said, and the others tightened their hold. And, "Frodo," he said. "As we talked about."
Boromir loosened his hold momentarily and Frodo nodded. Boromir took hold again and Frodo closed his eyes tightly.
Pippin settled the pot carefully over the fire. Not a drop would be spilled because of him, and the flames would not be allowed to die down. The cloths would continue to boil in the other pot and be ready for use. He thought these thoughts very busily, and moved about the fire quite briskly, edging stones closer in their ring around the fire and poking logs so that they were just so.
Little of this needed to be done, of course, but Pippin couldn't bear to look over to where Frodo lay surrounded by the rest of the Fellowship. He didn't want to hear anything either, because he very much thought that there would be words and sounds that would haunt him in the nights to come.
A weak flash of light caught his attention and before he could stop himself, he looked over to see the pale sunlight shine from the blade as Aragorn cut into Frodo's arm. And Frodo's body jerked then, a convulsive movement that was restrained by the sudden tension of those holding him down.
Pippin shuddered. No sound came yet from Frodo. But then the knife moved again, and once again a ripple of movement swept through all who held him down.
Like a rabbit caught in terrible fascination of a lantern light, fixed and unable to move or look away, Pippin watched. And yet no sound came from Frodo. Only the jerky movements that started with Frodo and spread swiftly outward to the rest.
Finally the sound came, that which Pippin had been dreading. It was muted, a scream muffled by the cloth. Suddenly freed from his unwilling fascination, Pippin scurried about muttering to himself while he restacked the wood, checked the water, and nudged the pots closer -- anything to take his mind from that dreadful sound.
Time slowed and yet Aragorn continued with his grim work. The distinct ripples of movement had blurred, for Frodo no longer could restrain himself either in movement or in sound and so all the Fellowship were busy in their various tasks.
Finally Aragorn bade Legolas to keep the wound open. Pippin could not block the screaming now. But Aragorn made a quick movement and then he straightened. With a note of triumph he said, "I have it." And he held up the bloody arrow head with the broken shaft. "Pippin, warm water and boiled cloths."
Pippin scurried over with the items. Trying not to look at the blood that drenched his cousin's arm, he set down a bowl of water and another with the cloths.
Aragorn laid the arrow down and washed his hands and his arms. Legolas took a wet cloth and cleaned the blood from Frodo's arm. Finally he took a new cloth to press against the wound for it still bled.
Pippin could no longer stay away. He crept to where Merry and Sam knelt. They were murmuring to Frodo and softly stroking his hair.
"Frodo?" he asked plaintively. "Frodo?"
Frodo looked up. His face was wet, but whether it was with tears or sweat, or both, Pippin couldn't tell. Suddenly Pippin knew what he could do. "Just a moment," he said and he snatched one of the wet cloths from the bowl and brought it back.
Kneeling down, he very gently, with the most careful of touches, wiped away the sweat and the tears. He moved the cloth lightly over Frodo's forehead and cheeks, and then caressingly over and under his chin. At the temples, he worked the cloth in tiny circles, soothing, massaging.
Frodo's face relaxed only a little, but that was all that Pippin needed to see. He continued the small circles of movement over the clenched jaw and around the cloth that was still in Frodo's mouth. Finally the jaw also relaxed just a bit.
Pippin's moment of small triumph was short-lived though, for then Aragorn spoke. "Pippin, Merry, Sam... I need to talk with you for a moment." And he stood.
Merry and Sam gave one last murmur and caress to Frodo before they too stood and, with Pippin, followed Aragorn a short distance from the camp. But Pippin noticed a look of silent communication pass between the three that remained behind.
Aragorn was brief. "I want you three to go up the bank a short distance and look for more firewood. Do not go too far, for we don't know what is out there. But I don't want you to return for a little while."
"We have enough firewood," said Pippin stubbornly, although he thought he knew why Aragorn made this request.
"That may be true, but..." And here Aragorn passed his hand wearily over his face. "Pippin, I need you, all of you, to not be here. You shouldn't see what I will be doing next. What must be done."
"I am staying," said Merry. "Frodo needs us."
"So am I," said Sam. "I've got to be there."
"I don't want you to be there," began Aragorn. "You can't..."
Merry interrupted him. "I'm sorry, Strider, but it isn't your choice to make. It is ours. I know what that bit of redness around the wound means. We aren't completely daft in the Shire."
"But Pippin shouldn't stay. He should leave," said Sam.
"Wait," Pippin said indignantly. "It's my choice too."
"No, it isn't," said Merry. "It's ours. I'm sorry, but I agree with Strider on one thing. You shouldn't see this. I think you've seen enough."
Pippin said nothing then, but the words stung. Mutinously he stayed by the fire as he did before, but when Merry and Sam returned to their positions, Aragorn came over to the fire and laid a piece of metal in the flames. And by the time the metal was glowing red, Pippin panicked and ran.
Pippin returned an hour later to a quiet camp. The various members of the Fellowship were tending to different tasks, but there was a subdued manner about them. Aragorn and Legolas were nowhere to be seen. The fog had thickened again over the river and the bay was an island in the mists.
Merry met him at the edge of camp.
"How is Frodo?" Pippin asked urgently.
Merry put a finger to his lips. "He is sleeping now. We don't want to wake him -- it's for the best."
Pippin hesitated. "Was it... was it very dreadful, Merry?"
Merry shuddered. "Don't ask me to talk about it, Pip. Perhaps one day. But not now."
But when Frodo woke up in the early afternoon, it was Pippin he asked for. Pippin knelt down by Frodo's right side and took his hand.
"How are you, Pip?" Frodo asked. His voice was weak, but it was not strained.
Pippin blinked. "Why are you asking me that, you silly hobbit? You're the one who was shot. Not me!"
Much to Pippin's amazement, Frodo chuckled very slightly. "True enough," he said. "I just thought that it must have been rather horrid for you to have to hear... and see what you did."
Pippin squeezed Frodo's hand. "It was horrid," he admitted. "But I'm all right. I'm more worried about you. How do you feel?"
"I've been better," Frodo answered.
"I wish... I wish I could have stayed with you," said Pippin hesitantly. "I'm sorry, so sorry. The others wouldn't allow me to. And... and I think that I couldn't... have stayed."
"I'm glad you didn't," said Frodo with some feeling. "I didn't want you to have to..." His brow furrowed and he closed his eyes tightly.
"No, no," said Pippin. "Don't think about it. It's over, isn't it?"
"You're right, Pip." But Frodo's eyes remained closed, and his eyebrows drawn together.
"Oh no, this won't do," Pippin said alarmed. "No, Frodo. Please don't think about it."
Frodo clutched Pippin's hand. "I'm sorry," he whispered and opened his eyes. "One hears about brave warriors who bear the pain of all kinds of wounds... and their healing. Despite what Aragorn said, I'm not turning out to be particularly brave, am I."
Pippin blanched. "Frodo, what Aragorn did to you -- the burning..."
"Was necessary," Frodo said. "I know. I know, Pip."
"That wasn't what I was going to say." Frantically, Pippin cast about him for ideas -- anything to distract Frodo. Suddenly he knew. "Look, I think you need a change. Do you think you could sit up? Would it hurt you?"
"I don't know," said Frodo. "Perhaps not."
Eagerly, Pippin said, "Do you remember when we took turns to hold you after Weathertop? We sat near the fire and just held you to keep you warm. Would you like to do that again? The bank is not far from the fire, and I could sit against that. Then you could sit against me."
Frodo thought for a moment. "Yes, I think I would. Thank you."
And so, with the help of Boromir who gently picked Frodo up and laid him between Pippin's legs and against his chest, Frodo was settled within Pippin's embrace. Gimli came and draped a cloak over both of them. And Merry and Sam were glad and smiled to see Pippin at his new task.
And then Aragorn and Legolas returned with the news of their success. They had found the portage route that passed the rapids of Sarn Gebir. Aragorn knelt down and put his hand on Pippin's head and one on Frodo's.
"Thank you, Pippin," said Aragorn and he smiled. "Would you mind holding him while I check his arm?"
Frodo stiffened, but Pippin nodded. "I will hold him."
Aragorn was gentle as he carefully removed the bandages and soaked off the layer closest to Frodo's skin. Pippin took a quick look at the blackened wound and then looked away. But he held Frodo gently and did not waver.
At last the wound was re-dressed, and Aragorn covered Frodo with Gimli's cloak once again. "It looks good," he said. "It is unlikely that there will be infection now." He looked at Pippin. "I will leave you to watch over Frodo." And he left them alone.
"How is that, Frodo?" whispered Pippin into Frodo's curls. "Do you feel comfortable?" Pippin took great care not to jostle Frodo's left arm.
"Much better," Frodo replied slowly. "You've been a great help, Pip. I must tell you -- do you remember washing my face when Aragorn had finished cutting my arm?"
Pippin nodded. Suddenly worried, he asked, "Was that all right? I hope it didn't annoy you."
Frodo made an odd sound between a laugh and a sob. "Was it all right? Oh Pippin, you don't understand. It was a moment of kindness, a moment of relief between... between..." He stopped here and with a sudden, impulsive movement, turned his head and burrowed under Pippin's chin. His eyes once again were closed.
Pippin rocked Frodo slightly and stroked his hair. He could see the worried glances from the others. They had heard the sob.
"Please, Frodo, open your eyes," Pippin said softly. "I have something for you."
Frodo reluctantly obeyed. His eyes were wet with unshed tears. Pippin brought up Frodo's hand and carefully placed something between his fingers.
"I heard you talking to Sam this morning," Pippin whispered, "about spring. So I thought I might try to find some Spring for you. It isn't much, but..."
Frodo looked at what he held and then a small smile appeared. "It looks a little like a snowdrop," he said. "Not exactly, but close enough."
Pippin took the flower from Frodo's hand and very lightly and almost playfully touched it to the tip of Frodo's nose. "There's your bit of Spring, cousin."
Frodo nodded slightly. "Thank you, Pip," he whispered. "Oh, thank you!"
And Pippin gathered Frodo in closely, and held him while Frodo wept freely.
And just as spring rains come to bring new hope to a land, so were the hearts of all eased to hear the tension break and tears fall for the healing of Frodo.
And, gradually, as the tears lessened, and Pippin comforted Frodo, they each were no longer shamed by their own thoughts of weakness.
Spring had come.