A/N: Part of my wing!fic universe; the previous stories in the timeline are "Flightless" and "Flagging Spirit" which are in my profile's list of stories.
When Frodo reached a small break in the stairs, he paused, leaning against the wall and panting. Looking back at the winding stairs he'd already traversed, he briefly considered going back to the Archives, where he was supposed to be all day. No. He had to do this; he must. Otherwise he would never know.
Doggedly he resumed his climb, passing three more of the short landings before he stopped for another break. He mused it was a good thing flying didn't require the use of one's legs, or his test would already be doomed to failure. Frodo experimentally flexed his wings; they were stiff, which was understandable, but seemed sound. The time he'd spent waiting for the feathers lost to the rocky crags of Mordor -and to the grasping claws of orcs, but he tried not to think about that part- to sufficiently grow back may have been sufficient to allow his various wounds to heal, but only an attempt to fly would tell.
It was the better part of an hour from when he began to when Frodo reached the top room of the grand white tower of Ecthelion. Aragorn had pointed it out with particular pride when giving the hobbits a tour of the upper level of Minas Tirith, though he'd not wanted to exhaust them on all of the stairs. Now Frodo saw what he meant, both about the exertion and the breathtaking view from the tall windows that loomed so high above the rest of the city. The Pelennor seemed so distant, so small from here, and he could see the glimmer of the Anduin on its border.
Reluctantly he turned his attention to the matter at hand. He'd noted a good-sized area of thicket and bushes to the northeast of the tower during their tour, and he was gratified to see it still seemed ideal from up here. His plan was to take off from one of these windows and coast on the air currents for a while, testing out his wings, then try to land. He figured he could aim for the thicket if the flight went badly so he'd have something slightly more forgiving than rock and ground to land upon.
Frodo took a deep breath and pushed one of the windows open, feeling the early summer breeze ruffle his hair and feathers. He stood there a moment before carefully clambering onto the sill. He slowly counted down from five, and gently allowed himself to fall forward.
There was a moment of panic as he began falling and his wings hadn't yet caught the wind, but then his downward descent was abruptly halted and he was soaring. Frodo grinned with delight and cautiously pumped his wings once, twice, to send him circling around the tower. When his wings obeyed his will without pain, he could hardly believe it. Had he truly regained the gift of flight? Considering his current height above the ground, it appeared the answer was yes.
Since his attempt was going so well, he ventured out a little further, taking a loop out toward the citadel before coming back to the tower and his thicket. He was making another round about the tower when something went terribly wrong. He was never sure afterward what exactly happened, but the next thing he knew, he was in agony, he was plummeting toward the ground, and his left wing would not respond. With a sinking heart he realized he would not make it to the thicket before he would land, so he shut his eyes and hoped desperately for the best.
It was midafternoon when Sam and Aragorn returned to the Archives to collect Frodo. Aragorn had been showing Sam around the garden at the Houses of Healing and offering as much information as he could about the plants that piqued Sam's interest. Frodo had been invited, but he had expressed a preference to read in the Archives instead, which Sam thought was well suited for him -he couldn't blame his master for not wanting to spend any more time around the healers and their draughts than he had to!
But they found the reading room empty, and the Archives curator didn't know where Frodo was, either. "He left 'bout a half hour after you did, milord," was all he could tell them. Sam wasn't sure if he should be concerned or not. Granted, Frodo wasn't where he said he'd be, but most likely he'd simply thought of something else to do that struck his fancy and went off to do that, instead.
Aragorn was similarly conflicted. His mind told him that if he and Sam frantically began searching, they'd eventually uncover a peeved Frodo who simply wanted some time on his own where he wasn't being smothered by the concern of his friends. But his gut was uneasy; if Frodo had wanted to do something on his own, he would have returned to the Archives before he and Sam were expected to return so they would not worry, which would lead to more smothering. Finally, he said, "We should return to the house and see if he is there."
"Aye," Sam agreed, seeming relieved. But Frodo was not there, either. Merry and Pippin were, having spent some time visiting with various Guards and Men of Rohan during their off hours. They were enjoying a sizable afternoon tea, and Pippin heartily invited Sam and Aragorn to dig in. "Actually, we're looking for Mr. Frodo," Sam replied. "I don't suppose you've seen him?"
The cousins exchanged a look. "We thought he was with you, testing out his wings," Merry said slowly.
"Testing out his wings?" Aragorn repeated, dumbfounded. "You mean someone saw him flying?"
"Some of the Rohirrim saw what they called a 'strange bird' flying near the citadel and tower earlier today," Pippin supplied. "From their description, we assumed it was Frodo. You weren't with him?"
"We weren't, and that's the truth. He was supposed to be visiting the Archives today," Sam said.
Merry and Pippin were on their feet in an instant. "If he's not back by now, something must have happened. We must go look for him," Merry said hurriedly.
As they hustled out the door and toward the seventh level, they debated where and how to search, eventually agreeing to begin at the citadel and work outward from there. Aragorn questioned the guards at the White Tree while the hobbits began the search, but those who knew anything at all repeated the same tale Merry and Pippin had heard from the Rohirrim. At least an hour was spent fruitlessly, with no sign of Frodo, so the four regrouped to discuss what to do next.
"We ought to try circling the tower here," Merry suggested, motioning in that direction. "If I know Frodo, that's where he started."
"What do you mean?" Aragorn asked.
Sam understood what Merry was getting at, and chimed in. "When he was a-learning to fly, he'd go up on something high and push off from there. Gave me Gaffer many a fright when he'd nearly fall out of the Bag End tree trying to get going."
Merry nodded. "It's more difficult to lift up off the ground than it is to start up high and go from there. Considering that he tried and failed in Rivendell to start from the ground, I'll wager he chose to do it the other way this time."
Aragorn nodded, and they turned as one to focus on the tower instead. Sam was about to get frustrated again when Pippin let out a shout and, being closest to him, Sam ran over to see what the youngster had found. Pippin was tearfully petting Frodo's hair and calling to him softly. Sam went around to Frodo's other side, carefully avoiding the outstretched wings and limbs, and patted Frodo's face gently. "Mr. Frodo?"
Frodo blinked groggily and groaned slightly. "I've really done it this time," he murmured. "I'm never going to try that again."
"Don't you fret, sir, we'll have you fixed up again in no time," Sam promised, hoping with all his heart that it was true.
By now Merry and Aragorn had arrived and were also hovering over Frodo's prone form.
"Where are you hurt?" Aragorn questioned.
Frodo tried to chuckle, but coughed a bit instead. "I think the list of where I am not hurt would be shorter, but I shall try to answer your question," he replied. "I believe I landed on my left arm -I am still laying on it- so something is probably broken. My chest and entire left side aches, my right knee is sore, and something went wrong with my wing, which is how I ended up here in the first place. Oh, and I have a splitting headache."
"But you can still feel all of your limbs?"
"Unfortunately. I would rather not move them right now, if you don't mind."
"No, stay still until we determine the extent of your injuries. At least it seems you did not damage your back. Tell me, how far did you fall?"
"Too far," Frodo groaned as Aragorn began feeling along his limbs and torso. "I was maybe half of the way down from the top of the tower? I'm not entirely certain, it happened so fast."
Aragorn whistled under his breath. "Then I am astonished you still live, my dear hobbit. Such a fall would kill a man."
"Perhaps, but I feel a fool. I intended to land in that thicket if anything went wrong, but as you can see, I came nowhere close."
"You never did have good aim, cousin," Merry informed him cheerfully, and Frodo glared at him.
Aragorn interjected, "Frodo, you seem to have dislocated the main joint on your wing. I'm going to push it back into place before the swelling keeps it out of joint. Sam and Pippin, please hold him as best as you can, and Merry, I need you to keep his other wing out of the way." When the hobbits were in position, Aragorn firmly guided the bone back into its socket with an audible pop. Sam shuddered. "I had to do that in Mordor, too," he said to no one in particular as he rubbed what he could of Frodo's back.
"Oh? Neither of you ever mentioned that," Aragorn said, shifting Frodo more onto his back so he could examine the trapped arm.
"Twas after the orcs had him in that infernal tower. They had pulled it out of joint and he had me put it back because it pained him so."
"One of them stepped on that wing, and I tried to pull away and it just popped right out," Frodo murmured. "It was agony, and they were pleased with themselves for getting me to hurt myself." He shuddered.
"I wish I had known, or I would have had you doing exercises to strengthen the muscles in that area. Once it is dislocated once, it is at increased risk of doing so again, though stronger muscles can help prevent it."
Frodo might have responded, but Aragorn had worked down his left arm and was now attempting to manipulate his hand and wrist, and by the jolts of pain it was causing, Frodo guessed what Aragorn was going to say.
"You've done quite a number on your wrist, here. It may be a challenge to make sure all of the bones are placed correctly so you can still use it once it's healed."
"Lovely," Frodo said through gritted teeth. "What else did I do to myself?"
"You will have some very impressive bruises all along your left side -you're already developing a good lump on your temple- and will likely be quite stiff for several weeks. You already know about your wrist, but you might also have dislocated that shoulder, there is too much swelling right now to tell for sure. Your right knee is quite a sight and while I don't think anything is broken, it will also be bruised and swollen. And you probably have several cracked ribs, but overall you were quite lucky. I just need to know -were you knocked out the entire time from when you landed to when we found you?"
Frodo would have shaken his head, but he realized it would be a bad idea. "No. I woke up what I think was shortly after, and I tried to get up because I knew you would be looking for me if I didn't get back to the Archives by the time you returned. But I couldn't get up, and it hurt so badly to try that I passed out again."
Aragorn was nodding. "Good. We'll still have to watch you to make sure you don't show any more signs of being head-injured, but you having been awake once already reassures me that you didn't quite as bad a knock on the head as I feared. Now, can you stand it if I carry you, or should I send for a litter to take you to the Houses?"
Frodo had to think about that for a moment. While he'd rather not have to be paraded through the streets on a litter, being picked up and carried sounded like it would be too painful. "I think I-"
Aragorn interrupted. "On second thought, I insist on the litter, for your comfort and to lessen the risk of worsening your injuries."
"I'll go fetch one!" Pippin said eagerly, and was dashing away before anyone could object. The remaining three fell silent in his absence, each absorbed in his own thoughts.
After a moment, Frodo spoke. "I would have chosen the litter anyway. I think being carried would jar too much."
Aragorn nodded but did not reply.
Then Frodo asked hesitantly, "Would you . . . help me fold my wings in? I'd rather have them as tucked up as possible before others come and see . . . I know they'll stare anyway, but . . ."
"Of course," Aragorn assured him, then lifted his shoulders as carefully as he could while Merry and Sam tried to tuck the wings underneath Frodo. When they were relatively satisfied, Aragorn lifted Frodo's hips slightly so the ends could be straightened, and by the time they finished just before the litter arrived, Frodo's wings were neatly hidden beneath his body.
Aragorn had the two litter-bearers set it down next to Frodo as close as possible and he gently eased Frodo onto the carrier. Frodo had kept his eyes clenched shut the entire time they were arranging his wings and moving him; he knew everyone was being as careful as possible, but any movement *hurt* and it was an effort not to cry out, especially when Aragorn had to pick him up enough to get him onto the litter.
He heard Aragorn cautioning the two men to carry him as smoothly as possible, but didn't get his hopes up, and was proven right almost as soon as they'd begun walking back to the Houses. Between the unevenly cobbled streets and the incline they had to go down to reach their destination, he lurched and bounced with almost every step. It was a mercy when a sudden jolt jarred him such that he partially rolled onto his broken wrist and the world went dark.
When he came to, he was secure in a bed, and many healers in addition to Aragorn were fussing over him. One was probing around the lump on his temple, another was wrapping his shoulder and dislocated wing so he wouldn't move them until they'd begun to heal, yet another was feeling up and down his sides gauging the damage to his ribs, and still another was conferring with Aragorn over his wrist (but neither was actually touching it, thank goodness). Aragorn seemed to sense his gaze, and smiled at him. "We'll have you feeling better in no time. A good part of that, I think, will be the pain draught we have here for when you woke up. Would you like it now?"
"Please," Frodo said. "And some water, too, if it isn't too much trouble. I'm rather thirsty."
Aragorn had the healer at his head offer him the draught, which he drank, relieved by the respite it portended even while repulsed by the taste. The water followed, and made him feel immeasurably better already -apparently he'd been more thirsty than he'd realized. At this point the other healers turned as one and left the room, save the one who'd been talking with Aragorn previously.
"Frodo, we think we might need to do a small surgery on your wrist to make sure the bones are aligned properly before they start to heal," Aragorn said without preamble, while the other healer -a surgeon?- nodded in agreement. When there was no sign of objection from the hobbit, he continued, "Once you've had a pain draught, we'll need to feel the extent of the damage to make a final decision. If it proves necessary, the surgery should be done as soon as possible, once we have tended your other injuries well enough that they too will heal well. However, since you hit your head rather nicely, we would need to wait until enough time has passed that we are sure you will suffer no more ill effects. If it is acceptable to you, we would splint it for now, and do the surgery tomorrow if it is needed."
"What might happen if you did it now?" Frodo asked, not wanting to drag out the pain any longer than absolutely necessary.
"If you are bleeding inside your head and we put you to sleep for the procedure, you may never wake up," Aragorn said flatly. "Of course, we could perform the surgery now and numb only the wrist, but it is likely you would still feel pain from it."
"Then don't do that," Frodo said hurriedly, hoping they weren't going to decide that was the better option. If they were going to be opening any part of him up and playing around with the bones, he wanted to be blissfully unaware of it! "Waiting until tomorrow is fine."
Aragorn grinned. "I thought you would say so. Just rest easy; we'll get your ribs wrapped up, then make you as comfortable as we can."
At that point Frodo abruptly realized he wasn't wearing his shirt. Ah, well, there was nothing worth seeing anyway . . . and then the pain draught was kicking in, and he realized he really didn't care, either.
When Aragorn saw Frodo relax, he knew the pain draught had started working, and had the other healer, Lurgan, help him wrap Frodo's ribs. Once they laid the limp hobbit back down onto the bed, Lurgan examined Frodo's wrist with probing fingers. Aragorn watched the evaluation with interest, periodically checking on Frodo's reactions. Despite the draught, Frodo could feel the pain of displaced bone rubbing together in abnormal ways, and he whimpered slightly. "I am almost certain I can align this without opening it," Lurgan said at length.
"Then we ought to do so. What do you need?"
"I will need to gather a few things from my office. I shall return shortly, and we can begin. Do not worry, Ringbearer, I will make sure you will not feel a thing," Lurgan promised, patting Frodo's arm reassuringly.
"Good," Frodo said simply, closing his eyes. "I wouldn't like you very much otherwise."
He laughed and left; Aragorn came closer to the bed and looked down at his hobbit friend. "Are you comfortable?"
"As comfortable as can be expected, I suppose."
"Fair enough. Now tell me something: what on earth possessed you to do that? And alone, no less!"
Frodo sighed. "I needed to see if I could fly. I had to know, and that was the easiest way to find out. But I didn't want to embarrass myself in front of anyone, so . . ."
"So you dropped yourself on your head. Yes, it makes perfect sense," Aragorn said sarcastically.
"No, no," Frodo protested. "I thought I had everything planned out."
"Except the possibility that something could go wrong and you would be without help."
"It is obvious I did not allow for every possibility," Frodo conceded. "But I thought I would be fine once I got in the air."
"What do you remember of what happened?"
"I don't, really. It was going well, I tried heading out a little further, then there was pain on the left side, I couldn't move that wing, and I couldn't control my fall. It might have been my shoulder, but I just don't know," Frodo replied.
At that point Lurgan returned with his supplies, and Aragorn helped him set up. Frodo nervously eyed the large syringe that the healer was filling with a clear liquid. Lurgan noticed his gaze and said, "Remember that I promised you wouldn't feel a thing? This is half of how that is possible. The poppy paste Lord Aragorn is going to give you is the other half."
Aragorn had Frodo take a very small amount of the medicine and let it dissolve under his tongue, then let him have some water to wash the taste away. Frodo began to grow even more dazed and sleepy, and only vaguely heard, "You are going to feel a poke." He did feel something pricking his skin, then realized how much his wrist had been hurting when that pain drained away.
It was an effort, but Frodo raised his head enough to see the healer laying out splints and lengths of bandaging in preparation for his work. He was intrigued that the Man then picked up his hand and he felt none of the expected agony. Frodo put his head back down. "If you wish to sleep for a while, you may," Aragorn told him gently. "We will wake you up periodically to check on you, but you may rest now."
Frodo nodded slightly -his lack of pain extended to his head, he was grateful to notice- and looked down at his wrist one last time. The healer looked like he was massaging it, but he was so intent on the extremity before him that Frodo knew there was more to what he was doing than some simple rubbing. He relaxed against his pillow and let himself float serenely on the peace of painlessness.
Aragorn observed Lurgan with curiosity; while Elrond had introduced him to this skill, he did not consider himself good at it by any means, and was more than happy to watch an expert ply his trade. Lurgan recognized Aragorn's interest and had him feel the progress at several points, pointing out where a few of the smaller bones had been displaced and how he was moving them back into their proper places. It was more challenging when the patient was smaller, he commented, but the bones are the same.
At length Lurgan had Aragorn move the hand gently forward and backward while he felt the way the bones moved and laid and gently held them in place, then nodded in approval and began splinting and wrapping it. When it was bandaged to his satisfaction, he said, "A very successful reduction. The wrist should be just about as functional as before once it has healed and he's done the usual exercises and manipulations to regain strength and flexibility."
"I am glad to hear it," Aragorn said, shaking his hand enthusiastically. "Would you like to tell Frodo, or should I?"
"You may tell him what you wish. I will check on him tomorrow and determine how long he should have it splinted." Lurgan said as he gathered his remaining supplies. "If he needs anything before then, have someone find me."
"Of course," Aragorn acknowledged as Lurgan bustled out of the room. He watched Frodo sleeping for a few moments; he hated to disturb the hobbit in his rest, but he had to ensure Frodo was not succumbing to the head injury. He patted Frodo's cheek and called, "Frodo, you need to wake up!"
Frodo made a noise, then mumbled, "Don't want to."
"I'm sorry, but you must," Aragorn said insistently. "Come, open your eyes and talk to me, and I'll let you go back to sleep shortly."
Frodo heaved an aggrieved sigh, and opened his eyes to glare at Aragorn. "Why won't you let me sleep while I can? I know well enough that as soon as whatever you gave me wears off, I'll be hurting again."
"I told you I would need to wake you periodically, remember? You hit your head quite hard, and I have to see you awake and talking so I know you aren't getting any worse."
"Suit yourself," Frodo grumbled. "Are you satisfied yet?"
"Not quite. How are you feeling?"
"Disgruntled that I am not asleep," Frodo asserted.
Aragorn acknowledged to himself that he had not asked the question directly enough, even as he tried to keep from chuckling. "How are your injuries feeling?"
"At this moment, I feel a general ache but nothing specific is hurting more than the rest. Now are you satisfied?"
"Yes, you may go back to sleep now."
"Finally," Frodo said peevishly. "If I could roll over and turn my back to you, I would."
"Attempting to move at this moment would be unwise," Aragorn agreed. "You injured yourself quite thoroughly."
"I realized that, thank you."
When Frodo seemed asleep, Aragorn decided it was high time to go reassure the hobbits about Frodo's condition. He had them wait in a room a short distance from Frodo's room, knowing that if he allowed them to be in the hallway just outside Frodo's door, they would try to get in, and Frodo's numerous injuries demanded prompt attention without having to worry about hobbits asking endless questions and unintentionally being in the way.
As expected, the three hobbits were in various states of anxiety: Sam pacing, Merry preening, and Pippin chattering like a magpie. Everything stopped the moment Aragorn stepped in, and three pairs of eyes fixed on him. "We have tended his injuries and he is resting. It will be a little while longer before I am certain his head injury isn't dire, but he has been awake and alert and grumpy, so I am optimistic. Everything else will heal with time."
Relief was etched on their faces, and Pippin asked, "May we see him?"
"Certainly. But you may not want to wake him for a little while -I just had him awake, and he was rather upset with me."
"He'll be pleased to see us," Pippin said confidently.
"But all the same, I'm sure he needs to sleep a while, too," Merry put in hurriedly, and Sam nodded his agreement. "We'll just go look at him for now."
Aragorn led them to Frodo's room. Their reactions were a mixture of gladness at seeing him and dismay at the number of bandages swathing various parts of Frodo's body. "It reminds me of what you and he looked like after you were brought back -bandages everywhere," Merry said quietly to Sam.
Sam was disquieted by this comparison, and said, "It isn't so bad as all that, I don't think. Strider said he'd be fine."
Merry shrugged. "That's what I thought of, that's all." He turned to Aragorn. "How much did he do to himself?"
"My initial assessment was fairly accurate. He does have a few cracked ribs in addition to the broken wrist, his shoulder was dislocated like his wing, he has that lovely bump on his head, and his right knee is badly bruised. He's going to have some trouble getting around while it is swollen, I expect. He'll definitely need help dressing for some time, at least several weeks, since he'll have to wear a sling to keep his shoulder from moving too much as it heals. Overall, he will be stiff and sore for some time."
"Foolish hobbit," Merry said fondly, rubbing Frodo's uninjured right arm. "I wonder if trying to fly was worth all this."
"Not entirely," Frodo admitted sleepily. "But I had to know if I could do it."
"And you found you can't."
"Evidently not," Frodo said wistfully. "I suppose not being able to fly isn't a terrible loss, but I'm going to miss it."
"Poor Frodo," Pippin said sympathetically, patting his leg.
"How are you feeling, Mr. Frodo?" Sam asked worriedly.
"Bruised and foolish, but I'll survive," Frodo reassured him.
"How long will he need to stay here?" Merry asked Aragorn.
"Overnight at the very least. Tomorrow we'll have him try getting up and see how he's doing. If he can get around well enough, he will be allowed to recover at the house." Aragorn looked to Frodo. "Does that sound acceptable?"
"I suppose it's the best I can hope for, so it's good enough. I probably deserve to be here longer than that for my foolishness, so I'll be happy to leave tomorrow."
Aragorn was somewhat surprised at Frodo's uncharacteristic acceptance, but decided to take it at face value. "Are you feeling up to eating something? It's around dinnertime and I'm certain you haven't eaten since before we left you at the Archives."
"I could try something," Frodo said cautiously. "I won't know for certain until I try."
"Dinner is an excellent idea!" Pippin enthused, and Aragorn laughed.
"We will be sure to supply enough food for you three, as well. In fact, Pippin, if you'll come with me, you can help me get the food."
"You're going to trust him to carry food?" Merry said in disbelief.
"I never said he would be carrying anything," Aragorn replied with a wink, and he and his small knight left Sam and Merry in Frodo's company.
Merry settled himself on the edge of Frodo's bed and stared at his cousin. "All right, out with it. What got into you? And are you sure you're all right? You are being awfully accepting of having to stay here."
"I had to try, you know that," Frodo said wearily. "And I realize the way I did it was exceedingly foolish, so I deserve whatever I have to endure as a result."
"Oh, Frodo," Merry said despairingly. "You don't deserve to be injured and in pain! No one does. I won't argue that what you did was less than intelligent, but that doesn't mean you *deserve* to suffer."
Frodo shrugged with his unbandaged shoulder. "Say what you will, but my injuries are a direct result of my foolishness. I deserve these consequences."
Sam had remained silent during the discussion, gently caressing Frodo's forehead, being sure to avoid the tender area at his left temple. Now he spoke. "Mayhap things will seem different in the morning, when you've slept some and are feeling a little better."
"Perhaps," Frodo allowed.
Aragorn and Pippin returned then, Aragorn bearing a large tray and Pipping carrying a bucket with some cloths draped over his arm. "We have brought dinner and ice for several of your injuries," Aragorn explained as Pippin lifted the bucket onto the table next to the bed. "Merry, Sam, you may start serving yourselves from the food while Pippin and I put together ice packs for Frodo."
Frodo sighed and allowed the fussing to commence. Lumpy oilcloths around generous handfuls of ice chips soon appeared on his right knee, his left shoulder, his left wrist, and propped on his pillow against his bruised temple. Sam set a plate with some bread and cheese on his chest so Frodo could feed himself, but Aragorn had to help Frodo eat the soup so he didn't spill all over himself and his bandages.
Frodo wasn't particularly hungry, despite being confronted by food, and ate only enough to say that he tried. At least the ice was helping dispel some of his various aches for the moment, though it made him cold and he shivered. Aragorn tucked the blanket around as much of Frodo's torso as he could without disturbing the ice pack on Frodo's shoulder. Frodo acknowledged the effort with a weary nod. "Thank you, but I will be all right. It's just that ice is rather cold."
"Yes, I'm afraid that is the point," Aragorn said. "I'll take it off after a few more minutes, and then you can rest more."
True to his word, Aragorn removed the ice packs about five minutes later and tucked Frodo into bed more snugly. "Better?"
Frodo nodded slightly, his eyelids slowly closing of their own accord. The other hobbits lowered their voices as they finished their dinners, then quietly filed out after wishing Frodo a good night. Aragorn remained, watchful and mindful that he would need to rouse Frodo again in a few hours.
Frodo was not in the best of spirits the next morning due to his fragmented sleep and the pain of his injuries. He snapped at his cousins for being too cheerful, at Sam for being too accommodating, and at Aragorn for being, well, himself. His ire abated somewhat after Aragorn gave him more willow bark tea, but he remained surly.
Lurgan returned around midmorning to check on Frodo's wrist, and he was pleased at how little it had swollen overnight. "You'll need to keep it splinted for at least three weeks," he said. "Try to keep it clean and dry, but I'm sure Lord Aragorn can rewrap it for you if necessary. After three weeks, I'll take a look at it and decide if you can start exercising it, or if it needs to stay splinted a little longer. Do you have any questions I can answer before I go?"
"No," Frodo said shortly.
"Then I'll see you in three weeks," Lurgan said jovially and left.
"Now that your wrist is sorted, I'd like to have you try standing to see how your knee does," Aragorn said.
"If I must."
"Good. First, let's try sitting up."
Sitting up was painful, but then, any sort of movement or position was painful somehow, so the simple fact of it being painful was not unique. This time much of the pain centered in his ribs and sides, which was different than the pain of lying down. Soon he would be finding out the pain of standing up.
Frodo looked uncomfortable, but he could sit up, so Aragorn went to the next step. "Move to the edge of the bed and let your legs hang down."
Frodo had to rely on his right arm and left leg to turn himself and scoot to the edge; his right knee didn't bend fully thanks to the bandage, but there was quite enough pain as it was that Frodo was quite satisfied with leaving it only half bent.
"Good. Now slowly slide down so your feet are touching the floor, but don't put your full weight down yet."
Frodo did the best he could, but the bed was high enough off the ground that by the time his feet touched the floor, he was almost completely off the edge of the mattress. Merry and Sam stood on either side of him to assist, while Pippin sat cross-legged against the wall a little ways away from the bed, watching him with his chin in his hands and his elbows on his knees.
"When you're ready, transfer your weight to your feet and stand up," Aragorn coached.
His left leg's bruises cried out, but he could ignore them. His knee also wailed at the strain, and it was a little harder to ignore, but he pushed it out of his mind as much as possible. He shakily stood on his own two feet, feeling nearly every inch of his body aching and pleading to stop this craziness.
"Very good!" Aragorn said, pleased. "Can you walk, as well?"
Frodo could step forward with his right foot just fine, but when he shifted his weight to step with the left, his knee buckled and Merry had to catch him. "Here, cousin, hold onto my hand and try," Merry coached. Frodo clung to Merry with his right hand, resting heavily against his arm, and this time was able to step with the left foot.
"Perhaps a cane of some sort would help," Sam suggested thoughtfully.
"Typically you ought to use a cane with the opposite hand, but in this case that's not possible," Aragorn said, intrigued by the idea. "But having something to lean on should help. We will just need to make sure you do not injure your right shoulder in the process."
Frodo nodded, pleased by the prospect of being able to get around with his bad knee without needing someone to lean on.
"The challenge will be finding something the right size for you, but even that should not be too difficult. I will make some inquiries, but in the meantime, Frodo, please do not attempt to go anywhere without having someone with you," Aragorn cautioned. "I do not think you would want to take a tumble on top of your current injuries."
"Not at all," Frodo hastily assured him as Merry helped him step back to the bed so he could sit down.
"Good. Now, would you prefer to remain here until we can obtain a cane for you, or go back to the house? I am willing to let you leave here so long as you comply with that one request."
"What would be easiest for everyone? I am well aware that I need assistance with many basic functions right now."
Aragorn looked to the hobbits, who quickly assured Frodo they would gladly help him with anything he needed. Frodo seemed reluctant to impose himself on their helpfulness, but finally agreed and said he would like to go back to the house.
By the end of the day, Frodo was ensconced at the house with his friends, and Aragorn was very close to success in obtaining a cane. Aragorn went the next morning to take Frodo to make the final measurement for a wooden cane being shaved down to size, then returned him to the house with a promise to return with the cane by nightfall. And he did.
Even one day of relying on others to get from one place to another tried Frodo's patience, so he was overjoyed to have some independence restored to him, especially since it meant he could now go relieve himself without needing help. Between the cane and being able to adjust to doing many things one-handed, Frodo was able to endure the aches and pains with some contentment. He chafed at being slow and feeling like an old gaffer, but resigned himself to the fate he brought on his own head.
Gradually the swelling of his knee went down and the constant pain receded into a periodic twinge, and his other injuries also began to heal. His bruises turned vivid colors before starting to to fade, his ribs didn't ache nearly as often, and his shoulder felt stiff but not as sore. Aragorn kept his shoulder and wing securely wrapped even after he stopped wrapping Frodo's ribs and knee, saying he wasn't confident yet that they were healed well enough.
When Frodo returned to the Houses of Healing for Lurgan to look at his wrist, he was able to walk all the way there and back with the aid of the cane, which made him feel better about his progress. Lurgan was pleased with the healing in his wrist, and provided instructions to do some gentle exercises to restore the range of motion and start making the joint stronger. Frodo left with his wrist lightly wrapped instead of splinted, and he felt very accomplished, indeed.
Until he remembered he would probably never fly again, that is. Many clear, bright days he would sit in the garden and look up at the sky longingly, imagining what the city must look like from above. He had hoped to explore a bit of the mountains, see the other side of this mountain range, and perhaps even take a peek at how Mordor looked these days. But it was impossible, out of his reach forever.
When he was alone, he allowed himself to wallow in his self-pity. His cousins and Sam didn't understand how it felt to be grounded after you'd known the wonders of flight. During his darkest moments, when he wondered what the point was of having useless wings, he contemplated getting rid of them somehow -he wasn't going to use them, after all- but he would come to himself and realize that while returning to the Shire with useless wings would be an oddity, it would be even worse to go back with no wings at all. He would have to content himself with being flightless for the rest of his life.
Perhaps it wasn't such a bad fate, compared with what could have happened to him in the Black Land. But he couldn't help longing, aching, for what had been.