FIC: THE PINE-WOODS EXCURSION Part 1/?

Author: Lily Baggins

RATING: PG-13 (for wee hobbit pain and suffering) angst, h/c. No slash, no sex, no language.

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. Contrary to many of my other stories, this fic contains NO slash and is written for the FrodoHealers! group on Yahoo.

***NOTES: There are of course medical treatments employed in this fic which are contraindicated today. Also, this is obviously an AU story---we know this didn't happen. And I've taken a few character liberties: in the books, Aragorn was out journeying during this period of time with Elladan and Elrohir, but for the sake of my story, he's delayed his trip a bit.

I really hope to update frequently, but have another story going at the same time---so I must alternate. As soon as that one is finished---which should be in the next week or so, I'll devote all my time to this one, unless rotten tomatoes get thrown at me to stop.

Feedback: Sure. Archiving: Iffin you wanna.

***

He lay in bed as long as possible, staring at the ornately carved beams on the ceiling above. For the seventh morning in a row, he had woken up with the same thought: He was going to Mordor. Perhaps not immediately, but surely soon enough. Something he could not name had possessed him to volunteer for the perilous task, and it was too late to back out now. In weeks, at the most, he would be going---and dragging others with him into great danger.

But enough negative thinking, Frodo told himself. He was planning to have a grand day---Aragorn had volunteered to lead the hobbits on a hike through the pine-woods around Rivendell. Comprised of tall, elegant trees, unlike any Frodo had ever seen in the Shire, the pine-woods were breathtaking, and Frodo had longed to walk through them from the first moment he had seen them outside his terrace.

But until lately, he had been too weak to venture so far. He still felt rather weak or chilled at times, and it irritated him---he had never taken well to being an invalid. He was tired of being sick---had been ill nearly the entire month of October---and was ready to be over it. Even for a Baggins, Frodo gave new meaning to the word "stubbornness," Bilbo had always said.

Yawning, Frodo rose, noting that the weather outside was perfect---a sunny, crisp November day. His clothes had been set out for him as he slept---every morning when he awoke, he noticed that---and every evening when he returned, his bed was perfectly made. Of course, some days he made it himself, but Frodo had never been much of a housekeeper, and making the bed was a domestic chore he had always hated. Getting dressed, Frodo headed out to the gardens to see if Bilbo was awake.

And he was: sitting on his usual bench, short legs dangling, as he scribbled notes in his book. "Frodo!" he called as he spied the younger hobbit walking toward him. "My dear boy, I am glad to see you looking well rested. Would you care to join me for second breakfast?"

"Second breakfast?" Frodo asked, startled. "Is it that time already?"

Bilbo laughed. "You slept late, Frodo my lad. But no matter---you must have been exhausted." He patted Frodo on the back, and Frodo thought to himself how nice it was to be around Bilbo again, and to feel so . . . cared for. Together, they headed off to the massive kitchens, where they scared up a huge breakfast before it was time for Frodo to meet up with the others for their outing.

***

Four hours later, the hobbits---minus Bilbo---were indeed enjoying themselves and were sharing a glorious picnic in the middle of the sunny valley. They ate more of the tiny fruit tarts, cold chicken salad, cheese, thick loaves of bread with honey, and sponge cake. Aragorn was enjoying this carefree time as well, since he was soon to leave for another wearying scouting journey with Elrond's sons. Although, the ranger admitted to himself, keeping Pippin out of trouble required some diligence.

"Aragorn," the youngest hobbit was whining, watching the ranger puff on his pipe, "why can we not go into the cave? I for one should like to see what was in it. Some great treasure, maybe."

Aragorn declined to answer, having tired of the question, but Frodo shook his head at his youngest cousin. "Pippin, haven't you learned anything? After the Barrow-downs, I'm quite surprised you are even thinking of wandering off somewhere unfamiliar---or of treasure."

Pippin sighed. "Maybe you do have a point, Frodo. At any rate, the scenery here is quite nice, and we do have plenty of food, so I will be content."

Frodo looked around---the scenery *was* breathtaking, and he could truly believe that no darkness entered the valley. For a bit, he was even able to forget the terrible evil that hung about his neck.

They all continued to munch heartily for quite a while----and even Frodo managed to down a good bit of food. It had taken him some time to get his appetite back after his wounding. He smiled at the others, enjoying the sight of watching them stuff their faces after their scarce provisions a few weeks earlier. When all had finished, they packed the picnic up and eagerly continued hiking up the valley.

They were forced to trudge through some particularly heavy undergrowth, laden with brambles and thick beds of pine needles, and it was slow going. But none of them seemed to mind---the area was beautiful and they were not in a hurry, and to Frodo, it had seemed a long time since he had been able to enjoy the sunshine without fear for his life.

He was admiring a small blue bird flying up above when he stepped into a particularly thick clump of undergrowth and felt a particularly sharp thorn puncture his calf.

Wincing, he leaned down to inspect the wound. There was a slight bit of blood, which he wiped away, as he ruefully considered that perhaps men were indeed wise to wear boots in such country. But it was just a small scratch, and catching his breath, he hurried to catch up to the others.

Sam had noticed Frodo lagging behind and called for the others to wait. As Frodo neared him, he tripped a bit over a rock and Sam's eyes grew round with surprise as he looked at Frodo's leg.

"Mr. Frodo, you're bleedin," Sam said, pointing to Frodo's calf about six inches above his ankle.

"I'm fine, Sam. Just a scratch. I stepped into a thorny bush a bit ago. It will heal."

Sam looked skeptical---a typical Sam expression Frodo had learned to ignore, much to his gardener's dismay.

"Beggin' your pardon, Mr. Frodo, but there's quite a bit of blood running down your leg. Strider!"

Sighing at Sam's over-protectiveness, Frodo bent over and looked at the wound---and was quite surprised to find that Sam was not exaggerating. His calf was, indeed, still trickling blood. But Frodo could see no obvious wound, although he felt a slight tingling sensation at the site.

Aragorn was beside Frodo in a moment's time, kneeling to look at the leg. The ranger wiped the blood away with a soft napkin from their picnic basket, his eyes narrowed and brows knitted together as he examined the wound.

"Sit down, Frodo," he commanded.

"But Aragorn, I am fine . . . I don't see what the fuss is about, really . . ." Frodo countered. Deciding not to argue, Aragorn stood and gently pushed the hobbit to sit on the ground, inspecting Frodo's leg once more.

"This isn't a scratch, Frodo," Aragorn told him, his voice grim. "You've been bitten by a snake."

"A snake?" asked Sam and Merry at the same time, their jaws dropping.

Frodo gulped. "Surely you're joking, Aragorn."

The ranger raised his eyes to meet the hobbit's blue ones, which had widened in fear.

"Am I the type of person to jest about such a thing? And I am a ranger---trust me, I know a snake bite when I see it. I can see the puncture wounds, and they are bleeding due to the venom within. You must rest as quietly as possible to keep it from spreading, do you understand?"

Numbly, Frodo nodded, putting his head in his hands. His leg was beginning to ache. "So it was a . . . poisonous snake?" He was still trying to digest the information. How could this have happened? Perhaps Aragorn was mistaken.

The ranger smiled slightly, gently brushing back Frodo's hair. "Yes, Frodo, it was poisonous. But do not worry---we'll get you back to Rivendell in just a moment and take care of you. With proper treatment, you should be fine. But you must cooperate with us---and I for one know how stubborn you can be as a patient." He raised his eyebrows and gave the hobbit a mock glare.

The hobbit nodded. "I will cooperate." He was relieved to hear the wound was not necessarily life-threatening, but he didn't at all relish the idea of possibly being sick again. Trying to lighten the situation, he smiled slightly. "Compared to a Morgul knife, a mere snake should be nothing, I would hope."

Aragorn smiled. "That's the right way of thinking. Hold on just a moment---I'll be right back."

Truthfully, the ranger *hoped* everything would be all right. They had the means in Rivendell to successfully treat snake bites, but he had the added complication of Frodo still not being one hundred percent recovered from his Morgul-blade stabbing coupled with the Ring-bearer's tiny size. Each snake bite was different---there was no way to know how much venom had been injected into Frodo, and a dose that might not affect a man could very well prove fatal to a hobbit.

Fishing in the picnic basket, Aragorn removed the cloth they had eaten on earlier and tore it into two strips before going back to Frodo. From his spot on the ground, Frodo watched, his brows knitted together, wondering what unpleasant treatment the ranger surely had planned. Sitting and taking the hobbit's small leg, Aragorn quickly tied a strip of cloth above the bite and another below it---snugly but not tightly.

"That will help to restrict the flow of the venom but won't restrict blood flow, Frodo. Now, this is probably going to hurt, but must be done, all right?"

Without waiting for an answer, Aragorn pulled his long dagger out---Frodo thought he could hear his own heart beating when he glimpsed the metal flashing. Wasting no time, the ranger quickly made two incisions over the bite wound, grimacing as he saw Frodo flinch at the sharp pain. But by this time, the hobbit's leg was beginning to ache quite a bit, and a little extra pain was not terribly noticeable.

Leaning down, Aragorn put his mouth to the wound and sucked, drawing the venom out and spitting into the grass. Frodo was beginning to feel downright nauseated, and he wondered if it was because of his anxiety or the effects of the venom. Aragorn repeated his sucking and spitting treatment several more times, and Frodo grimaced at the pain of it.

The hobbits had all heard of this method of treating snake bite before---it was employed in the Shire---but they had never seen it done, and it made them feel a bit queasy. They remembered the warnings they had been given as children to beware of snakes, and they also remembered little Mosco Burrows, who had been bitten by a snake at the tender age of six and lingered, in terrible pain, for days before succumbing.

Finally the ranger finished and bent to pick Frodo up. The other hobbits were still standing around, a bit dazed at it all, their lips tight with worry.

"Really, Aragorn, I can walk," Frodo protested, although he was beginning to feel a bit dizzy and lightheaded and wondered if he was thinking clearly. "Please, I'm not an invalid---I'm perfectly capable of making it on my own."

"No," Aragorn said in a voice that brooked no argument, eyeing the hobbit's face, which was growing paler by the minute. "If you walk, the poison will spread faster. Do you understand?" His eyes were gentle, feeling pity at all the hobbit had been through in the past weeks.

"All right," Frodo replied weakly as Aragorn lifted him and settled him on his hip as he would a small child so that the bite wound was kept well below the level of the hobbit's heart. Frodo clasped his arms around the ranger's neck to hold on, watching the beautiful scenery pass him by. Together, the group trudged back down to the Last Homely House, the three walking hobbits struggling to keep up with the ranger's long strides.

"I was so enjoying the day," Frodo whispered from his position in Aragorn's arms. He winced as his dangling leg was jostled a bit, making the wound ache more. "And here I've gone and spoilt it for everyone."

"Nay, little one, it is certainly not your fault," the ranger admonished, patting Frodo's back to soothe him. "Now rest until we get there."

Frodo laid his head against Aragorn's shoulder as his stomach churned and his vision blurred---whether from tears or the poison he didn't know.

To be continued