Disclaimers. The usual. I make no money off of this and do not own these characters, much to my chagrin. They belong to Tolkien Enterprises, or whoever has the rights now, and I only give them interesting---and usually unpleasant---ways to spend their time. Things happen here that definitely did NOT happen in the book or the movie--- I'm sure Tolkien would lock me up in Barad-dur and throw away the key if he read this.


Voices intruded on his nightmares. He was lying on something soft and yielding---something huge. He could not fathom where it began and where it ended, and he tried to stretch his arms out to feel the edge of it. No, that was a mistake . . . one arm would not obey him. No matter how he tried, he could not move it: it was unfeeling and icy cold.

Was he dead? Perhaps he was dead. Was anybody out there? He thought he could hear and feel the many sounds of comings and goings . . . soft whispers . . . light touches . . . the jostling of the bed when someone took care of him. But he did not yet feel the presence of the one he wanted.

Without warning, icy tendrils of pain grasped him, and he turned over and curled up on his side, shivering. Gentle hands tucked the covers about him more tightly and smoothed the hair back from his sweat-soaked brow.

A small, sad voice spoke close to his ear. "My dear boy . . . I never meant for this to happen. I never meant for you to bear this burden alone." The sound of weeping followed.

Someone was there, next to him, touching him. Someone dear to him, but he did not know who it was. All he knew was that it wasn't the presence he had been seeking earlier.

Where was the one for whom he was searching? The one who had eased his pain along the treacherous way? The one who had soothed his wound with warm fragrant water; who had gently rubbed his chilled hands and feet in the middle of the night; who had wiped his mouth when stomach spasms left him heaving and empty; who had cradled him in his strong arms when moving---even breathing---became too much to bear. Where was he?

He tried to speak, to ask these questions. But unable to get the words out, he gladly yielded back to the darkness for a time.

When he came awake next, he was able to open his eyes a bit, and he panicked. The waking was no better than the sleep, if indeed he was awake. His vision was a hazy shade of gray . . . swirling shapes and mists that would not budge. A world of shadowy figures.

Another voice, a cultured male voice, this time speaking . . . was it Elvish? Yes, it sounded like Elvish, if he could remember exactly what Elvish sounded like, and it commanded him to do something. But he had no idea what the voice was commanding. Nor could he have obeyed if he had known. All he knew was that this voice was not the one.

The icy claws took hold of him again, and when he shifted a bit, pain took his breath away. A noise escaped him before he could stop it --- a low moan, not unlike that of a small wounded animal.

Another voice . . . older this time. Old and as deep as the dark places of the Earth. A beloved voice, but still not the one.

"Stay with us, Frodo Baggins," it commanded, and he felt a large hand wiping his sweat-drenched chest with a soft damp cloth.

He wanted to stay, but the cold creeping over him had other ideas. And where was the one he was waiting for? He could not remember who it was he was seeking, or what he needed; only that the presence was not there.

Slim white hands and a shining curtain of dark hair passed into his vision. A woman's lilting voice, softly singing to him as she straightened the bedclothes around him. No, no, it was too much. Too much brightness, and it hurt his head and eyes. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut and sobbed from the pain of it.

Awareness returned and he wished it hadn't. Someone had hold of him---was gently but firmly holding him flat. What were they doing to him? A terrible burning sensation in his shoulder assailed him, and he whimpered and tried to pull away. He raised his good hand up to ward off the terrible touch and it was tightly clasped by another's hand---a small hand like his own. Not the one, then. But nevertheless, the touch was a blessing and he squeezed the hand tightly through his pain.

"Easy, Mr. Frodo," a sweet voice soothed. "They're just trying to get you well. You're going to be just fine. . . we'll not let anythin' happen to you."

He tried to open his mouth to speak, but again, the words wouldn't come. Only the terrible, terrible cold that whipped around him in a thousand icy coils.

Someone lifted his head and put something wet to his lips. He swallowed a bit but was forced to stop as he nearly gagged from the attempt. Hands eased him back as he lay trying not to choke. Someone gently wiped his mouth, and he listened carefully for a voice to know if it was the one.

"Feeling any better, dear cousin?" said a young voice. "Just think, before long, you'll be right back at home in the Shire, trying to avoid Farmer Maggot's dogs again and . . ."

Not the one. He squeezed his eyes shut, curling up into a tight ball and clenching his one good hand into a fist beneath his chin. Giving up hope of ever finding the one again, he yielded to the blackness of the night, a single tear slipping down one pale cheek. Through it all, he could still hear and feel the presence of the others roaming about the room, whispering and looking at him---all except the one.

Some time later---what time it was he could not possibly say---he felt the bedclothes being lifted and a draft of air---carrying with it a familiar woodsy fragrance---hit his small body. He shivered from the cold and whimpered as something jostled the mattress on which he lay. Then suddenly a warm body curled up next to him and strong arms drew close around his shuddering frame, pulling him into a protective embrace.

A gentle hand brushed his hair back and a soft mouth lightly kissed his brow, ears, and finally, his dry cracked lips.

"Please come back to the light, little one," a smooth masculine voice soothed. "Please come back to me. Your Strider is here and he loves you."

Through his dark dreams, Frodo wept with relief. The one had finally come.