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The Acceptable Sacrifice
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7: Rainy Night in Ithilien


The rain was striking the canvas stretched over their enclosure when Frodo woke in the middle of the night. He was shivering with cold and fear, for in his dream he’d heard the cries of those trying to rescue him as the orcs of the tower cut them down, and his back where he’d been whipped was burning with pain. He was breathing rapidly and, he realized, whimpering in terror, and he had his wrists pressed together as if they were bound.

Aragorn was turning up the light of the lamp some, and then was leaning over him, laying his hand on Frodo’s forehead. “It was but a dream, Frodo--only a dream.”

He came fully awake and tried to sit up; but as he put pressure on his right hand pain spasmed up his entire arm. He cried out in agony. He fell back and cried out again as his burning back struck the sheets. Sam sat up suddenly, his face tight with worry. “Mr. Frodo!” he called.

Aragorn had his hand behind Frodo’s right shoulder and was easing him up into a sitting position, doing his best not to touch anywhere that had been badly hurt. The door flap was opened and an Elf entered--not Legolas, but one of the dark-haired sons of Elrond; he, too, approached the bed on its other side and was placing his hand behind Frodo’s left arm to help support him.

They could hear the pounding of his heart, see the fear in his face, hear the pain in his moans. “Nightmare,” Aragorn said in Sindarin. He turned to Sam. “Don’t worry, Sam,” he said in Westron. “We’re taking care of him.” Not completely reassured, the gardener lay back, continuing to watch with concern.

“I am sorry I could not come sooner, Estel, but the one who was struck in the gut--the infection finally drained. I think now he will live, but it has been such a near thing.”

I am keeping them from those who truly need their help, he thought. My body is almost healed, not like those others in the healers’ tents.

The one who argued in his mind gave a deep sigh. Don’t be foolish. Are you a Baggins or a Took this evening? You were as badly hurt as any, and worse than most, and you are definitely not almost healed. It will be some time before you can claim that distinction.

But my body is almost healed....

It is? You can rise and walk about, but your stomach is still roils at the presence of the food you need to heal properly, and your neck still drains, and the shoulder where the Morgul knife took you will likely never properly heal--how often have you been told that? And the pain you feel is not just the pain of memories. The coolness of the rain outside has made the whole of your body to ache, has it not?

But I was no soldier fighting to protect his fellows....

He could hear the astonishment in the voice that argued. Not protecting his fellows? What have you done but protect others for much of the past year? Was that not why you left the Shire--to bring the danger of the Ring out of it, to draw the danger after yourself? Is that not why you proclaimed, “I shall take It!” at the Council, to protect the others from Its danger?

He gave a snort of derision. Some protection I offered them. Simply by remaining with them I drew danger to them again and again, and allowed Its blandishments to seek to corrupt them.

The Elf was leaning out the doorflap and speaking with the guard, then came back to assist Aragorn to ease him out of the nightshirt he wore, which was damp with sweat.

A brazier on a low stand was brought and set up, and filled with coals; Gandalf came and set them to glowing, and soon the room was filled with warmth about Frodo. A healer brought a warmed blanket and towel and fresh nightshirt wrapped in canvas against the rain, and Aragorn took them and with Gandalf’s help got the shirt on Frodo. The warmed towel was wrapped about his head, the blanket about his body. The healer left again, returned with a covered mug, and Frodo was coaxed to drink the steaming draught it contained.

Frodo’s eyes were caught by the green glow of the gem of the brooch Aragorn wore at the neck of his shirt, and his mind seized on it, drew from it, and the pain began to ease. How absurdly easy it was, he realized, to touch that power, to accept it--so much easier than to bear with the power the Ring had contained. He was smiling as he began to sag back, and Aragorn and Gandalf, surprised by the sudden loss of tension in the Hobbit’s body, aided him to lie down again, covered him over. Seeing that Frodo was now eased, Sam allowed himself to drift back to sleep.

Eventually they slipped the blanket from around his body and laid it over him instead, and he smiled his thanks, and at last slipped into a deep and restful sleep. Gandalf ran his hand over Frodo’s exposed forehead, then looked with surprise at King and Elf. “He’s responding to the power of the Elessar stone, Aragorn. He himself is keeping the memories, dreams, and pain at bay--for the moment. In his dream he was back in the tower of Cirith Ungol, waking from the spider’s poison, thinking the fighting he heard was the orcs cutting down a force led by you come to try to rescue him.”

“I will need to talk with Sam tomorrow, learn what happened there specifically,” Aragorn sighed. “I know only that his body was so deeply compromised that every time the healing gift I bear touches him it bleeds throughout his body, often away from the site I am most trying to ease. And I cannot appear to touch the darkness in the heart of the spider bite wounds, although they seem to pain him the least.”

The healer who’d remained in the tent asked, “Then that was indeed the bite of a spider?”

The new King nodded. “Yes, a spider indeed; a great spider similar to those who have lived and bred in Mirkwood for most of the last Age.” He looked South and East toward the Morgul Vale and the Pass of Cirith Ungol. “Apparently Sauron used one of the great spiders to guard the way they went, which is how the pass was given its name.”

The healer shuddered. “I will go, then, back to the others who are yet recovering. I am but glad he rests now.” He bowed and withdrew.

Elrohir sighed. “He rests now, Estel, and you should do the same. For all the Elven and Númenorean heritage you might bear, you yet need to sleep yourself from time to time. Now go, and one of us will remain by him. He is at rest now, and will sleep properly for the remainder of the night.”

At last Aragorn nodded, and tucking the letter he’d been reading back into his tunic he pulled his Lorien cloak about him, drew up the hood, and went off back to his own tent for the remainder of the night.


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