Aragorn gave orders the roof cover was to be set over the enclosure for Frodo’s and Sam’s beds, for signs were that it would rain that night. After he saw to the healing soldiers he stopped in the tent where Merry and Pippin were housed. “Have you seen Frodo and Sam this evening?” Merry asked.
“Not yet--I’ll be going there next, and will probably stay there for a good part of the night, unless one of those in the healers’ tents takes a turn for the worse.”
“Frodo barely ate today. He can’t get by if he’s not eating, Strider.”
“I know. I’ve given orders he be given small amounts to eat on the hour during the day, and I’ll be taking him something to eat while he’s preparing to sleep.”
Merry nodded, and Aragorn examined first him, and then Pippin. As he was having Pippin do the exercises intended to help strengthen the muscles surrounding his hip, Pippin asked, “Why did you have just an enclosure put around Frodo and Sam’s beds, and not a proper tent?”
“First, their lungs were heavily affected. They’d been breathing in the ash and the fumes of Mordor and the Mountain for far too long; and at the end the gases of the last eruption almost killed them. They needed fresh air. Secondly, I tried having them in a high tent, but if he felt closed in at all Frodo became fretful in his sleep. What surprised me more was that Sam also became fretful. Both seemed to need natural light to reach them--sunlight, the light of the moon, and especially the light of stars--especially at night. I hate putting the top over the tent tonight, but I can’t let them get soaked and possibly chilled.”
“Is that why you’re planning to sit by them tonight?” asked Pippin.
“He’s going to be all right, isn’t he--Frodo, I mean?”
“I hope so, Pippin. I hope so.”
He went now to the kitchen tents to get the bread, chicken broth, and juice he’d ordered for Frodo, and with it on a plate he went again to the enclosure where Frodo and Sam slept. The clouds were lowering, and it would probably rain about an hour before midnight. He checked the cover and saw that it was properly set into place and secured. The guard at the door looked at him apologetically. “Lord Frodo wishes for the guards on their quarters to be released from this duty, my Lord,” he said very quietly. “I told him I needed your permission to leave the post assigned to me, and that to do so without it could mean my execution, and he went pale, and asked my forgiveness. But I think he may ask you to see to this.”
Aragorn sighed. “Thank you for telling me. I will try to explain that this is to help guard his privacy more than simply as an honor, but whether he will believe me I cannot yet say.”
“It is an honor for me.”
The new King nodded and gave an inclination of his head, then as the guard pulled open the flap he went inside. Frodo sat in one of the low camp chairs which had been placed in the enclosure, wrapped in a blanket. He looked at the plate Aragorn carried with concern, and the Man realized that Sam held the chamber pot which had been provided, had been preparing to carry it out of the tent when he arrived.
“What is it, Frodo?”
“I suddenly lost what little I’d eaten the last time I ate,” the Hobbit answered reluctantly, aware that if he didn’t answer his friend would ask Sam, who would be honor-bound to tell.
The King set the plate down on the nearer bed, then held out his hand to Sam, lifted the cover and looked at its contents. The food there was barely digested. He put the cover back on, went to the basin and ewer and washed his hands carefully with the soap set there, finally returned and knelt before Frodo. He placed his hands on Frodo’s belly and let his fingers feel deep, focused his attention there for a time; then finally came back present.
“You came very, very close to starving to death, Frodo; and the effect of what was in some of the water you drank in the Black Land was not kind to your stomach and bowels. Then, your stomach has shrunk, apparently even more than has Sam’s. You were also under great stress for a prolonged period of time, which can affect the health of the entire body and spirit, and can cause great distress to digestion, even leading to bleeding, ulcerous sores in the stomach and upper bowels.
“It is not at all uncommon for those who have not eaten for a time to be unable to eat much, and especially not much in the way of solid foods, at the first, and sometimes for prolonged periods after the privation is over. This is true for you now. How long it will last I cannot say. When damage is deep and has occurred over a long period of time, it will often leave scars which cannot be easily healed away.”
He sighed as he looked into the Hobbit’s eyes and saw the frustration there. “There is another thing--the more guilty or otherwise distressed you feel, the harder it is to stomach the food you eat. To fully heal you must be able to release the feelings of guilt the Ring has taught you to feel, and you must work to be calm and let your spirit be at ease. This will be very difficult, and especially in light of what you have experienced. I can help in many ways, but in the end the job of letting go of the guilt is one you must accomplish yourself.”
“What must I do?” asked Frodo almost dully.
“Smile and laugh as much as you can, Frodo. Find work that allows you to feel accomplishment. Take exercise that is gentle but fulfilling--walking is generally a good one to take, as is swimming. Avoid foods that upset your stomach, especially strong spices such as peppers, or foods such as onions or tomatoes, or foods with much fat in them. Drink juices, mild ales and watered wine, and don’t drink to intoxication. Eat foods known to be easily digested such as rice.” He saw the face Frodo made, and laughed. “I see that is one food you do not care for.”
“I detest rice.”
Aragorn smiled wryly. “I will help as I am able, Frodo. Some herbs may also help--chamomile, some mints, ginger....”
Frodo sighed. “So, this time will be more difficult healing than the last time.”
“Unfortunately, yes. You should also eat several times a day, more often, even, than most Hobbits do, but smaller amounts at a time. And you’d best avoid eating heavily, particularly when you are tired, ill, or under stress.”
Sam looked at his Master and then at their former guide. “I’ll take this along to the privy, then, and empty it out and see it rinsed.”
As the Dúnedan nodded to the gardener and Sam left the tent, Frodo shook his head. “I don’t understand why I can’t be just as I was.”
Aragorn sighed as he set the plate on the table between the beds, lifted the cover off the bowl of broth and handed a spoon to Frodo. “No one who has been through what you have endured will ever be just as he was, tithen nín. However, none of us who went on the quest is as we were before. It is not just you, my friend. Pippin’s hip is likely to ache with changes in the weather for years, and both your left arm and Merry’s right will probably cause you distress from time to time, for you’ve both been under the Shadow. As for Sam--he will, I think appear to recover, but he’s certainly not innocent now and will never be able to convince himself from now on he’s nought but a gardener.” He gently pulled the low table in front of the Hobbit.
Finally, Frodo gave a brief nod of acceptance of that truth, then tentatively sipped at his broth. As he carefully spooned it to his mouth, for the first time Aragorn realized that Frodo was grimacing with pain and that the spoon was being held awkwardly in Frodo’s hand. Berating himself for not foreseeing this obvious problem, he had Frodo stop and set down the spoon, then took the hand in his and again let his fingers feel deep through the bandage, crooning the Invocation under his breath. The hand itself was cramping, and the place where the finger had been cut off was, he realized, throbbing. Gently he massaged it, and saw the relief on Frodo’s face; but he could feel the healing draining from the hand to elsewhere in the Hobbit’s body. Frodo had been so very close to death and his entire body so damaged that throughout he and his brothers had been unable to fully ease him, particularly as there were so many others needing their aid. All he seemed to be doing for the hand itself was to ease the cramping and throbbing some. At last Frodo said, “Thank you. I think I can manage now.”
He helped Frodo get a better grip on the spoon, and this time he was able to get the broth down. He then sat back in the chair and ate the roll slowly, and finally drank the juice as Sam returned, placing the chamber pot back on the shelf of the table between the beds. At last Frodo asked, “Why do we have guards by us?”
“First, out of respect and honor, for all wish to show both to the two of you. Secondly--due to your role in bringing down Mordor there are many who would come here at any and all hours, simply to gawk at both you and Sam, to spout foolish words at you, and so on. It was deemed wise by those who see to the discipline of those who have been here to post a guard to make certain you are not disturbed. There are some who would cut off curls of hair as relics, or take your small clothes....”
“They’d take my underwear?” asked Sam, shocked. At the Man’s nod the two Hobbits shared a horrified look.
“We’ve already chased off several who sought to burrow under the side of the tent to look at the two of you sleeping. One who was most persistent was sent off today back to Minas Tirith so as to put an end to his foolishness. I had to keep reminding myself that at eighteen he was still not much better than a boy and has time yet to come to some sense of propriety.”
Frodo began to laugh, and sat back helplessly, clutching the blanket about him as he rolled his head from side to side. “You’d expect sense from someone just in his teens?” he finally asked.
Pleased to see Frodo could laugh, Aragorn smiled. “He’s a Man, and not a Hobbit, Frodo. I was fighting orcs beside my brothers when I was but fifteen, and came of age at twenty. But some Men do mature more slowly than others.”
Frodo was in far better humor as Aragorn helped him slip out of his shirt lean forward so he could check the wounds on the back of his neck. Sam leaned down to examine it, and grew pale. The wounds were dark at their hearts, although now a thick scab covered over each of them. Aragorn went to the door and gave orders to the guard, who saluted and hurried off, returning almost immediately to resume his duty. Meanwhile he checked Frodo’s back and shoulder. The weals from the whip in Cirith Ungol were visible on Frodo’s back and side; they’d closed but were still raised and drawn. There was a red scar about the back of his neck and over his shoulders where it could clearly be seen where the chain of the Ring had lain. The place where he’d known the wound of the Morgul knife was too bright a pink.
The Guard leaned in and announced quietly, “A healer has brought the water and herbs you requested, my Lord.”
Aragorn turned to the doorway and accepted the burden from the healer, thanked him. “If you should see either of my brothers, will you ask him to come to my side, please?”
“Gladly, my Lord Elessar,” they could hear the Man return, and they exchanged bows. Sam, seeing the need, carefully set the empty plate on the ground so Aragorn could have a place to set the basin he carried.
The gardener watched as Aragorn pulled out athelas and certain other herbs and breathed on then and rolled them between his hands as he murmured a song under his breath, then cast them into the water. There was already a pile of clean cloths available on a shelf which had stood at the far side of the room, and with a gesture he indicated Sam should bring him some. He carefully dipped one into the water, wrung it out, and began to cleanse Frodo’s skin, going over the scars, removing the bandage on the hand and examining it, then cleaning the stump there as well. “I don’t believe we will rebandage it,” he commented quietly. “It will help you handle your utensils better.”
Frodo’s face went paler as he looked at the place where the finger was missing. The remaining skin had been very carefully pulled over the knuckle and apparently stitched together, and it had healed without leaving the sight of bare bone and even without looking ugly. But even knowing what had happened, it was still a shock to see it. Sam held out his hand to take Frodo’s after the King released it, holding it between his own as he’d done on the side of Mount Doom. “It looks so much the better,” he said, quietly. “So much the better.”
Aragorn carefully pulled the bruised athelas leaves out of the water, and laid them over the spider bite on the back of Frodo’s neck. “It looks as if this might begin to drain again,” he said. “I’ll wind a bandage to hold these in place overnight to aid in the healing.”
He took a roll of bandaging material from the same shelf as the cleaning cloths, and wrapped it over the shoulder and around and under the opposite arm to hold it in place, then tied it off neatly.
After helping Frodo into a nightshirt and out of his trousers, the Man helped him onto the bed, and having him lie face down checked the weals and scars on Frodo’s legs and backside. Again he gently cleansed them and laid his hands over them again. They were still livid, but definitely were healing. Remembering Legolas’s report from the morning, the Man realized that the only three Frodo easily allowed to help him were Sam, Gandalf, and himself. He noted this and promised himself he would remember it.
He ended by cleansing Frodo’s face where he’d had cuts and burns, saw that these would leave only minimal scars if any in time. If only those on his knees and the tops of his feet would heal as well, much less those where he’d been apparently tied tightly.
At last he was finished, and helped Frodo straighten the nightshirt and turn over. “You are doing very well, Frodo--far better with most of the wounds than a Man would if injured similarly. Your hand will probably continue to hurt at times--the damage was traumatic, and the nerves may still tell you that the finger is there and hurting for some time. We aren’t certain why this happens, but it does occur with those who’ve had amputations.”
Sam looked surprised. “Does it really?”
Aragorn nodded. “I’ve known Men who lost their arms who insist they can feel their fingers curled up and the nails digging into their palms. I don’t think that will happen with Frodo, as it was but a finger he lost; but he may still feel as if it were there and as if it is hurting. And any hurt to a joint tends to throb off and on for some time.”
Frodo nodded slowly. “I’ve noted that yesterday and today, although it’s been worse today.”
“What I’m most concerned about are the spider bite and the scar for the Morgul wound, as they are both responding most reluctantly to treatment.”
Frodo sighed. “I was already warned the shoulder might not truly heal.”
Reluctantly Aragorn nodded. “Adar told this to me, also, Frodo.” He looked deeply into Frodo’s eyes. “Yet, the fact remains you are still here, Frodo, and still able to know laughter and pleasure. You deserve to know joy again before you go onwards. We hope to help you know that again.”
He finally lifted the herbal draught left earlier for Frodo and helped him drink it. Then he saw him covered as he gave Sam the same consideration he’d given to Frodo. At last both were abed, their healing wounds cleansed and soothed. Sam asked sleepily, “The scent--I don’t place it.”
“It’s the odor of the Sea, Sam.”
“Oh. Smells clean, you know.” And in moments Sam had drifted off into sleep. Slowly Frodo followed as Aragorn dimmed the lantern and sat between them, pulling out a letter sent him from Minas Tirith to read and consider as he sat watching the two sleeping Hobbits.