FIC: MATHOM 6/?

AUTHOR: Lily Baggins

RATING: PG-13

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 and New Line Productions, and I only give them interesting---and usually unpleasant---ways to spend their time. This fic contains no sex, no slash, and no profanity.

In this fic, Frodo is 22, just a few months shy of turning 23. And while Frodo and Bilbo are cousins, since Bilbo referred to Frodo in FOTR as his "favourite nephew," I may occasionally refer to them as such . . .

***

"The Bree palsy? Are you certain?" It was Bilbo who spoke first, as Frodo lay frozen, trying to digest those few horrible little words the doctor had just uttered. He couldn't have the Bree palsy---why, he had things to do! It was summer in the Shire. He had a hike to the Southfarthing with Fredegar to consider and a visit planned to see the Bracegirdles' litter of striped kittens. And then there was Old Barnabas Puddifoot's birthday party---everyone knew he gave out excellent presents, and of course Freesia would be there---not to mention the fact that all Frodo's favorite places to read were now warm and sunny. No, he was busy. Much too busy to be ill.

But the doctor was going on anyway. "Yes, I'm quite sure, Mr. Baggins. There seem to be three types of the disease. The first is fairly mild, the second may cause loss of function of the extremities, and the third causes paralysis of select muscles in the head. Frodo's difficulty in swallowing, evidenced by the choking episode you mentioned, plus the rather noticeable change in his voice, are caused by the third type."

"But what about his leg then?" Bilbo asked. "Will that go away? Or will it get worse?" Rising, he sat on the edge of Frodo's bed and stroked the tweenager's sweat-soaked curls. Frodo sighed gratefully and leaned into his touch as the older hobbit grasped one overly-warm hand.

Dr. Littlefield sighed. "I was getting to that. It IS possible to have a combination of the second and third types of Bree palsy---immobility of the arms or legs with head involvement---and it appears that's what Frodo has. He'll experience weakness until he's well on the road to recovery, but patients with these symptoms often regain full use of their limbs and don't even need a crutch. I won't lie to you---he's very sick and will be bedridden for some time. But on the other hand, it's entirely possible he's experiencing the worst of it right now."

Frodo felt himself growing dizzy and barely heard the last sentence. He had a dread disease that might cripple him. A crutch? He would be ill for weeks? Or he might die . . . or worse, make others he loved sick . . . . And no matter what, he would be kept away from his friends for a long, long time---in Brandy Hall, nothing was so feared as the Bree palsy, and anyone who got it was seen by naught but his caregivers for weeks.

Before he could stop it a small sob escaped, sending his belly spinning out of control. He gagged and brought up ginger tea, and immediately Bilbo was supporting his head, applying a cool towel to his brow as the doctor fetched a basin.

"I'm sorry," Frodo croaked when he had finished, his head sagging back on his wet pillow. His head ached so miserably and his neck felt stiff and painful. "I'm sorry." Again he was surprised at the strange quality to his voice . . . he sounded just like a frog. That would impress Freesia, he thought ruefully, having a frog courting her. A frog with a black eye. Two black eyes, he corrected himself.

"Sssshhh . . ." Bilbo soothed, moving out of the way as Dr. Littlefield checked the tweenager's temperature.

"His fever will likely rise much higher, Mr. Baggins, and will need to be kept down. If he finds sponging too painful, I recommend a wet flannel sheet. Dispense with the nightshirt if you must---he probably won't be able to tolerate being undressed or the feel of cotton against his skin."

Bilbo nodded and Frodo, sniffling, stared up at the doctor questioningly. "Will . . . will I die?"

"Here now, young Frodo, we'll have you dancing the Springle-ring with that lass you won't tell me about in no time at all. What you must do is rest to get well. Absolute rest and quiet are essential."

The tweenager bit his lip, blinking, as he tried to force difficult words out. "But . . . at Brandy Hall . . . some . . . some of my relatives . . . d--died from it."

Bilbo swallowed hard, his careworn face drooping in concern. "Frodo-lad, don't speak so, now."

But the doctor smiled, kneeling at the bedside and staring into the blue eyes gazing up at him expectantly. "It's possible, Frodo, to die from the most simple of illnesses---the flu, measles, mumps---even a stomach upset. Just like those illnesses, it's possible to die from the Bree palsy, but such hobbits are usually very old or very young or sick to begin with, not a strong lad like you."

"But . . . they couldn't breathe . . ."

Dr. Littlefield nodded grimly. "A very few who get it may suffer from paralyzed chest muscles and cease breathing. But trust me, lad, that's an extremely rare complication." He grinned, ruffling Frodo's curls. "You've a far better chance of getting skewered by a pitchfork at your next barn raising."

"All . . . all right." The word was just a whisper, but Frodo managed a slight smile. "Can I have some water? I'm so thirsty."

"Just a moment, Frodo . . . let's try something and test your swallowing. Mr. Baggins, if you would hand me my bag . . . yes, thank you." Fishing in the bag, Dr. Littlefield pulled out a medicine dropper and filled it with cool water from the pitcher nearby before raising Frodo's head a bit.

"Now, I'm just going to put a few drops on your tongue---open your mouth for me, that's right . . . now swallow very carefully."

The scant amount of liquid felt grand on Frodo's tongue, and although he was able to swallow only with difficulty, he managed to do it without the water coming back out his nose, which seemed to please the doctor greatly.

"Good, good," Dr. Littlefield said, smiling as he handed the dropper to Bilbo. "You may keep this for now, Mr. Baggins. Feed him only tiny amounts, a few drops at a time to avoid choking. It's best to try only clear broths right now until the vomiting settles, as well as all the ginger tea he can handle. Nothing thick---no custards or puddings---too hard to swallow. But lots of liquids---that fever and the vomiting make it very important he take in fluids. I have several packets of herbs I'm going to leave with you just now for him---something to ease the headache, and of course skullcap will help a bit with spasms----"

Frodo closed his eyes, wearily drowning out the doctor's long list of advice to Bilbo. Dimly he was aware of hands lifting the bedclothes and he shivered, sighing when hot-water bottles were placed about his aching bones. The heat *did* feel very good and seemed to ease the discomfort.

"Is that helping, lad?" Bilbo asked, dabbing at the tweenager's face with a towel.

"Yes . . . feels good."

A cool hand felt Frodo's face again and the tweenager heard the doctor's voice just above him.

"Well, Mr. Baggins, I must be on my way soon. But first I must tell you . . ."

He paused for a moment, and Frodo opened his eyes, listening. He had a distinct feeling he wasn't going to like what was coming next. He'd seen this "trick" with doctors before---they acted as if you were fine and on the road to recovery, only to spring a bit of unpleasantness on you.

"Unfortunately," the doctor said, proving at least part of Frodo's theory true by his first word and the fact that he only looked at Bilbo, "there are no medicines that will halt this disease---we can only treat the symptoms as they occur. In short, your boy is going to need constant and skilled care, Mr. Baggins. I'd like to send over one of my best nurses, Bolandra Mugwort, to help. She lived in Bree until her husband passed away some years ago and is quite adept at dealing with palsy patients."

Frodo frowned, shifting miserably and grimacing as he felt his nightshirt twisting around his thighs. He didn't particularly care for the idea of someone other than Bilbo tending to him. As if being ill wasn't bad enough, the last thing he wanted was a stranger named "Mugwort" about. "Bilbo . . ." he pleaded, "I won't need much care . . . I'll do my best to recover soon . . . please?"

"I don't know, my boy . . . I'm afraid Dr. Littlefield is right. If we can have someone knowledgeable to come help us . . ."

"Yes," Dr. Littlefield said, "don't fret, Frodo. Bolandra has borne six children of her own and has a way with young hobbits. Now, Mr. Baggins, of course you'll need to keep Frodo away from others, make certain you wash your hands after tending to him every time, and eat or drink nothing he's touched. I'll write up a set of guidelines for you to follow for disposing of wastes and linens---best we can tell, that's the easiest way to catch the palsy. Of course, at your age, you've likely had a mild form of it and won't catch it again. But we don't want to take chances."

Resigned, Frodo closed his eyes. His head was throbbing right behind his eyes. The hot-water bottles had done nothing to ease that and he was actually looking forward to even bitter tea if it relieved the pain.

"I'll send Bolandra and some of my assistants with supplies right over---wool for packing, plenty more hot-water bottles, medicines, and whatever else I think you'll need. Now, I'll be on my way---but I will certainly be back later this evening and twice a day, at least initially, to check on our young patient." Smiling, Dr. Littlefield very gently rubbed the tweenager's shoulder and walked out with Bilbo.

But at the doctor's first sentence, Frodo's eyes had widened. Packing? Whatever it was, it sounded painful, and he was suddenly very frightened.

To be continued