Author's Notes: Avast! Thar be an update! Ok, enough with the Pirate talk, and… enter apologies! I'm so, SO sorry about the gap between updates… again. I've been wicked busy lately, but, as you can obviously tell, I'm on summer break, so there might be slightly more time to write. Anyway, here you go! Enjoy!

Chapter 49:

Blood. Blood was everywhere. It was like my vision was tinted red.

Around me, I could sense that the battle was still going on, but I was only focused on the pale, lifeless Hobbit I had clutched in my hands. I couldn't hear the rest of the battle – the only noise I heard was the sound of my own screams…

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"Jana! Jana!"

I sat bolt upright, my heart pounding and my eyes wide. I could still hear the screams – they seemed to be echoing around the chamber. After a second, I realized that they were in fact echoing, and that I was the one screaming. I shut my mouth.

"Are you alright?" I turned to see Pippin sitting next to my bed. He was inching forward cautiously, both hands slightly raised, as if afraid that I might attack him.

"Merry!" I said, my eyes darting wildly around the room. "Where's Merry? Is he alive?" My voice was rising in hysteria as I spoke.

"He's alright," Pippin said quickly. "He'll be alright." He was trying to sound confident, but I could see in his eyes that he was scared.

I swung my legs over the side of the bed. "I need to see him."

Pippin stepped in front of me. "No," he said forcefully. "The Healer said not to let you move."

"I need to see Merry," I repeated.

"I don't think that's a good idea," Pippin said.

I glared at him. Panic mode was in full swing now. "Pippin, if you don't move, I swear to God…" Pippin looked at me for another second, then the frightened Hobbit stepped aside.

I jumped down off the bed. I was dizzy, and I knew that standing wasn't the best idea, but I was scared, and scared people are highly irrational. I tottled my way across the room, stumbling with every step, until I reached the bed where Merry was lying. He didn't look good at all. His lip was split open, and a dark bruise was forming on his forehead. As I watched him, he whimpered in his sleep and shifted slightly, but didn't wake up.

After a few more seconds of watching the sleeping Hobbit, my shaky legs gave out from under me, and I collapsed to the floor, falling on my shoulder, and admitting a long stream of curses, which earned many disapproving looks from several people in the room. In the next second, I heard footsteps behind me, and I felt someone lift me up. I turned my head to find that it was Aragorn who was holding me.

"Put me down," I said crossly.

He ignored me, and instead turned his attention to Pippin. "I thought you had orders not to let her move," he said.

"I tried to stop her," Pippin said, staring down at the floor. "But she said she needed to see Merry…" He trailed off.

Aragorn sighed, and brought me back to my bed. "Go back to sleep," he said. "You need your rest."

"But – "

"Jana, sleep, or I will knock you out myself."

Through all my time spent with Aragorn, even at my post annoying points, he had never threatened me before. I knew I was treading in dangerous waters now, so I kept my mouth shut and nodded. He looked at me for another second, then turned and left. I rolled over and looked toward where Pippin had been, but he was gone too.

I rolled back over and stared up at the high ceiling, a funny feeling in my stomach.

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When I opened my eyes again, it was early morning. I groaned, and pushed myself up with my good arm. Little black dots clouded my vision, and I began to wobble.

"Not so fast there, Lass," came a gruff voice from next to me. I turned to see Gimli sitting beside my bed. "You've been through quite a lot, the Elf tells me."

"You've got to get me out of here," I said, looking seriously at the Dwarf.

Gimli shrugged. "If you insist," he said.

I swung my legs over the side of my bed, and Gimli helped me to my feet, taking care not to touch my bandaged shoulder, which was still throbbing just as much as it had been the day before. We shuffled out of the room together, his hand hovering behind my back to catch me, if need be.

He steered me out of the room and into the hall. The stone felt cold on my bare feet. After a minute or so more of shuffling, we reached the main hall, where we found, much to my surprise, almost everyone gathered, and, more importantly, intact. Aragorn was pacing up and down; Legolas stood calmly off to the side, his hands clasped behind his back; Eomer stood a few feet away from the Elf, with dark circles under his eyes, undoubtedly a result of his angst over his uncle's death and Eowyn's near-death; Boromir stood next to Eomer, looking sour; Pippin and a now conscious Merry both sat at the table; and Gandalf stood near by, leaning on his staff, and gazing at the far wall, as if something was holding his acute attention there.

Gimli deposited me on the bench next to Merry, then made his way up the steps to Aragorn's vacant throne, plopped himself down there, and pulled out his pipe and lit it. I turned to Merry. "How you doin'?" I asked.

He smiled weakly at me. "Better," he said.

But before either of us could say anything more, Gandalf spoke. "Frodo has passed beyond my sight," the Wizard said. "The darkness is deepening."

"If Sauron had the Ring we would know it," Aragorn said calmly.

"He has suffered a defeat, yes," Gandalf countered, "but behind the wall of Mordor resides another army."

"Let him stay there, let him rot!" Gimli growled. "Why should we care?"

"Because," Gandalf said grudgingly, in the tone he usually reserved for me, "ten-thousand Orcs now stand between Frodo and Mount Doom." He paused, then shook his head. "I've sent him to his doom…"

"No," Aragorn said sharply. "There's still hope for Frodo. He needs time, and safe passage across the plains." He looked up, that 'I-have-a-plan' look in his eyes. "We can give him that."

"How?" Gimli said.

"Draw out Sauron's armies; empty his lands," Aragorn explained. "The we gather our full strength and march on the Black Gate."

There was silence. "That's insane!" I said. Everyone ignored me.

"We cannot achieve victory through strength of arms," Eomer said.

"Not for us, but we can give Frodo a chance if we keep Sauron's Eye fixed on us," Aragorn said. "Keep him blind to all else that moves."

"A diversion," Legolas said, a small smile creeping onto his face. I shook my head. I couldn't believe how recklessly stupid these people were.

"Certainty of death," Gimli said, "small chance of survival… What are we waiting for?"

"Sauron will suspect a trap; he will not take the bait," Gandalf said.

"Way to be a Debbie-Downer," I grumbled.

"No, I think he will," Aragorn said.