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The Acceptable Sacrifice
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39: Spider Bite

39: Spider Bite

That night was held a farewell feast for those of Rohan who would be returning to their homes the next day, and for Elladan and Elrohir as well as those of the Grey Company who would go North now to prepare the way for the return of the rest of their number with Halladan as Steward in a couple months' time.

Éomer, Éowyn, and their folk, save for Lord Elfhelm and a few others who would remain as honor guard for the remains of King Théoden, were due to set off for the return to Rohan, intending to set things in order there before returning for the late King's body. Éomer had agreed to allow Merry to remain in Minas Tirith, realizing that for now it was difficult for Merry to be forced to be apart from his kinsmen and Sam, and that Frodo still needed his cousin beside him for his own recovery.

Dressed now in formal Hobbit attire just finished by the tailor, Frodo went up early to the Citadel accompanied by Sam and Gimli. Sam was more self-conscious, it appeared, in the rich waistcoat and vest over Hobbit trousers and shirt he'd just accepted than in the shirts and surcoats of Gondorian design he'd worn earlier during their stay. Gimli shook his head. "Samwise Gamgee, if you don't stop looking as if you'd been sneaking into your father's chamber and using his hammer and chisels...." He left the threat unfinished.

"It just feels too fine for me!" the gardener insisted for at least the twelfth time.

"Too fine for you?" the Dwarf sputtered. "Just you remember you're now a Lord of all the Free Peoples, and we expect you to look fine!"

Frodo smiled at Sam's expression. "At least I now feel a bit more like a Hobbit," he said. "And I don't worry now about perhaps my trousers falling down, now I have a decent pair of braces on again."

"That tailor fellow wasn't too keen on making them up, but he did a fine job of it in spite of hisself, didn't he?" commented Sam, checking the lie of his own braces.

"Yes, he did. And you, Sam, look marvelous. Just right to catch the eye of Rosie when we get home again."

Sam flushed, but smiled; and Frodo found himself grinning along with Gimli. Frodo had appeared to strengthen in the last few days, and today felt lighter of heart after a night of actually sleeping well. As for the day's joys--they increased his feelings of well-being.

Aragorn met them as they were admitted to the Royal Quarters, dressed in a robe of maroon brocade. He examined them with pleasure. "You both look wonderful. Master Brendir must have had his whole workshop busy on outfits just for you. Sam, those shades of green and rich brown become you most splendidly. Wear that home, and your young lady must look on you with favor. Frodo, that shade of blue brings out the blue of your eyes. You look...." His eyes were suddenly full of memory, but he was smiling. "I won't tell you how wonderful you look, for fear of turning your head."

Frodo smiled. "So, you now have another robe, even if it is plain. I must say I'd never have dreamed the rough-looking Man who invaded our parlor at the Prancing Pony would prove to be such a peacock, and such a well-favored one!"

Aragorn laughed. "Now," he said, "you must come to the kitchens with me. I have performed a miracle--I have managed to teach the banquet chef to prepare a dish I learned to love when I was among the d'Bouti clan in Rhun. I was going through the pantries to see what items I might wish for the kitchen in this wing and discovered they had a store of a spice the Rhunim call curry. I haven't seen it for years, but I certainly recognized the scent and taste. I've taught him how to make curried rice and lamb, and he's making it for the dinner tonight. Frodo, you'll love it, although you shouldn't eat much of it. So, we're going to go to the kitchens...."

Sam followed after, watching as the King, having wrapped a towel about Frodo's finery, was leading the Ringbearer from cook to cook, giving him tastes of what the rest would be served. The strong spices used in the preparation of the lamb Frodo found delightful after weeks of mild fare, but after the second taste Aragorn, who was watching him closely, set his hand to Frodo's stomach, and noting turmoil there shook his head. "A bite and no more of that on your plate at dinner, then. I don't wish to see you lose it all just when you've only now begun to stomach your food better. You like fish, don't you?"

The feast was a pleasant affair, although there was a distinct look of distaste on Frodo's face as he looked at his plate of vegetables and fish and single bite of the lamb while all about him were enjoying the curried dishes. Well, perhaps not all, for there were a few women who could not seem to get it down, and it was swiftly removed and more of the fish and vegetables brought to them. That a few others were having to share his own fare made it a bit easier, he supposed. Even he had to admit the fish was excellent, though.

Afterwards the dancing was most elegant. Again the King led the dancing with the Lady Éowyn and did better than he had before, and then left the lady to her intended, who tonight danced most divinely indeed.

When a gentle dance was played Frodo stood up with the Lady Rhiannon who afterward insisted she'd never danced with a better partner. He was able to complete the set, which had been perhaps a bit short; but again those who danced in Frodo's set took fire from his own dancing, and all were alight with pleasure when done. Frodo sat back in his chair afterwards, pleased but exhausted, watching the rest of the dancing with the more enjoyment that he'd been able to share a part of it. Many stopped by his chair to speak with him and share their gladness to see him dancing, and both Pippin and Merry, serving tonight as guards of honor for their respective Lords, shared looks of delight. Sam danced once with the Lady Éowyn, and proved he, too, was a good dancer. Aragorn noted that Frodo watched this with distinct approval.

Platters of sweetmeats were placed on tables about the dancing floor, and servants carried goblets of wine, brandy, and juices among the guests as they talked. Delighted to find pleasure in taste this night, Frodo ate gladly of the sweetmeats, and accepted two goblets of wine during the evening. Master Faralion sat with the musicians and played, and when the call went up for songs at the last he was prevailed upon to perform the Call of the Fool to the delight of the guests, including young Lord Gilvarion who was part of the company.

At last the Elves consented to sing, a complicated harmony of delight for the beauties of the world; and then Elrohir, Elladan, and the King together sang a hymn to Elbereth, one Frodo hadn't heard before. He leaned his head back and without meaning to drifted into sleep, smiling at the dream, seeing Aragorn standing beneath the stars singing this with three children, a tall girl with hair of dark gold like Sam's, a boy with hair as dark as the King's own, and a small girl with hair of bright gold and a face as open as that of the Sun, all three with the Light of Stars in their eyes.

When the song was finished he awoke, feeling somewhat foolish. Gimli came to him quietly and asked if he was ready to return to the house in the Sixth Circle, and reluctantly Frodo agreed, rising and going to take leave of Aragorn, gently touching the power of the Elessar and expressing a silent thanks, although he wasn't certain he understood himself for what he was grateful or particularly to whom.

Sam went with Gimli and Frodo, and together the gardener and the Dwarf joked and laughed. They were almost back to the house when suddenly Frodo became sick to his stomach and hurried to the side of the street, losing all he'd eaten and drunk, falling to his knees, Sam and Gimli together holding him and seeking to calm him. At last, when the bout seemed over Gimli straightened, shared a look with Sam, and turned to hurry back up the ramp.

Sam had helped Frodo out of his spattered trousers and drawn a hot bath for him, adding rose oil to the water, when the Dwarf returned followed by Elrohir. The Elf examined Frodo carefully as he sat wearing drawers and the quilted silk shirt designed to go under his mail. "How much wine did you have tonight?"

"Only two goblets."

"During or after the meal?"


"You didn't eat too much at dinner from what I could see. Did you eat any of the sweetmeats after?"

"Yes, a fair amount."

After a moment's thought, Elrohir asked, "Do you find on most days food doesn't taste particularly pleasant?"

Looking down at his hands, Frodo admitted, "Most days it seems that way. Today it--today it tasted good." He looked up at the Elf. "On the days I need to eat I can barely stand to do so; on the days I want to eat, I can't seem to keep it down once I do." The frustration was obvious.

"It appears that you can only eat a certain amount at a time, Frodo. And you don't appear to be able to handle more than a single glass of wine at a time. I suspect it was a combination of the sweetmeats and the wine that led to this."

Frodo looked away at the shelves. "If I were to eat only the amount I ate tonight at a Shire meal, including the sweetmeats after, the hostess would take offense that I didn't care for her cooking!" He looked back at the Elf. "I am a Hobbit, Lord Elrohir--a Hobbit, not a child of Men! I can't live on such light rations!"

They heard the front door open, and a few moments later Aragorn had come through the room in which Sam slept to the study where Frodo sat, his mind seething with frustration. Elrohir spoke to his foster brother quietly in Sindarin, and Aragorn sighed and nodded.

"It does no good to speak in Elvish," Frodo grumbled. "I do understand Sindarin, you know."

Elrohir straightened. "I am aware of that, my Lord Frodo. I did not speak so to keep you from hearing, but simply because it is the tongue in which I best describe symptoms such as yours."

For a moment Elf and Hobbit looked pointedly at one another, and then Frodo crumbled. "I apologize. I am again taking out my own frustrations on you. Please forgive me."

The Elf placed his hand on Frodo's shoulder, his own expression softened. "I understand, Small Master. I understand how hard it must be; and then to feel as if someone is patronizing you adds coals to the fire of your distress." He knelt down. "I apologize also, Frodo Baggins." He stood. "I will leave you with him, Estel. Elladan and I still need to finish packing for tomorrow. We will return soon enough, I suspect."

Sam saw the Elf out, then came back. "I'm not certain as how you tell the two of them apart, Master," he said as he came in.

Frodo, who was drinking from a mug Aragorn had brought with him, shrugged. "I'm not certain myself, except now I generally seem to know which is which." He set the mug down. "I can't even finish this. I'm tired of not being able to eat!" He glared at the mug. Finally he looked back at Aragorn. "I'm not going to get any better, am I? You said that with Halargil because he hadn't become better within a reasonable time he wouldn't get better."

"It's different, Frodo. Halargil suffered a brainstorm. You did not. We don't know why recovery must be quick with brainstorms or it will not come at all; we know only this is true. Look at you now--you have days when you feel almost normal and others when you can barely keep anything down. The days when you are almost normal are increasing in number, however."

"I can feel almost normal in the morning, and be ill by evening--or the other way around. No one can say how I will be from moment to moment." He stood and walked to the shelves on the wall and stood staring blindly at the volumes standing on them. "I will be calmed after a time and will feel better; then something happens and it starts all over again." He turned and looked at the Man, his face almost to the point of tears. "I cannot take you home with me, back to the Shire; yet it is being by you that I am able to feel best." He stepped closer to the King. "Am I going to ever get any better, Aragorn?"

At last his friend answered, "I don't know, Frodo. I know that where there has been a great deal of damage to the body, when there is heavy scarring it takes a lot longer for the body to recover--if it recovers fully at all."

"And is there a lot of scarring in me?"

"We don't know. We don't know, but--I suspect there is. Some of the scarring will likely never heal, but most of it will heal--in time."

"In time." Frodo sighed. "Then I don't want any more draughts."

"Why not?"

"They aren't doing any good."

"No one said they aren't doing any good, Frodo. They are not themselves healing you, but do help you maintain a better balance."

In time a compromise was agreed upon--Frodo would continue with his morning draughts but no longer receive an evening one. Aragorn wasn't particularly pleased by this state of affairs, but he could not force Frodo to compliance with what he believed ought to be done. He went to the kitchen with Sam and fixed a small plate of food for Frodo to eat as he could. Broth, toast with just a bit of honey on it, apple juice, a few vegetables.

"Light foods, only small amounts of any foods which are rich or very spicy. Very little tomato or of any fruits whose juice may sting in a cut. Served once an hour until he can keep it all down."

"I understand, Strider."

"Any teas you can get down him with mint, ginger, rose hips. Light ale only, a small amount at a time, watered wine once a day."

"Yes, sir."

Aragorn carried the plate back to Frodo's room, and found Frodo had gotten himself into the bath while they were gone. He stood by the side door to the bathing room and asked, "May I enter?"

At last Frodo answered, "Yes."

The room had a few stools in it, and was warm from the boiler having been fired to heat the water. Aragorn set his tray on one of the stools near the tub, sat on another. After a moment he felt Frodo touch on the Elessar gently. He'd done so in the feast hall, also, only briefly, more in greeting, he'd felt, than for need. "We will be riding down through the city tomorrow to see Éomer and Éowyn and my brothers off on their way. Will you and Sam ride with us?"

"If you wish."

"I'll leave word at either the Dragon's Claw or the Inn of the King's Head to have a meal ready for you as you come back up through the Second Circle, whichever you prefer. They have excellent lamb at the Silver Pheasant in the Fourth Circle, and fine light lunches at The Lady Finduilas in the Fifth Circle. As much as you can walk, the better for you."

After a moment he took out of a pocket of his robe a small package and set it on the tray by the tub. "I had this made for you, and the silversmith brought it to me today. Keep it filled with water or tea to carry with you."

Frodo straightened, and took it, unwrapping it carefully. Inside was a finely fashioned silver pocket flask, engraved with an eight-pointed star and Iorhael in Tengwar script. He looked up at Aragorn and smiled tremulously. "I'm so sorry to be such a burden on you."

"A burden, small brother? No, never that. Never, never that. Stubborn? Yes! But never a burden."

Aragorn closed his eyes, sitting in the room lit by candles, smelling the rose oil in the fragrant steam, hearing the eased breathing of Frodo as he soaked and relaxed. Gently he began to sing an elaborate counting song in Adunaic common among the Dúnedain, one which his uncle had taught him when he was a young Man, one which his father had always sung as he approached his home and his young bride to announce his return to her, one which he himself used to sing as he neared the cottage where his mother lived once she'd returned to the Angle after he'd left Rivendell to take his place as Chieftain of their people. Frodo sat back in the tub, smiling softly, watching the play of reflection of the flames on the silver flask, finally beginning to drowse as he listened to the song, each of the twelve verses growing more complicated.

Aragorn, as he finished, saw how Frodo had relaxed, got the towel and came forward to help him out of the tub. "Don't want you falling asleep here, tithen nín." he said. He saw the removal of the plug in the tub, saw Frodo, wrapped in his towel, back to his room where he sat on a low stool and allowed Aragorn to help him on with the nightshirt Sam had set out for him. It was as he was easing Frodo's hair out of the collar of the shirt the Man felt liquid on his hand. Suddenly concerned, he said, "Lean forward, Frodo." Uncertain, the Hobbit complied. Aragorn knelt and lifted the hair away and examined the back of Frodo's neck. The skin over the spider bite had opened, and it was draining a thick fluid, part pus, part lymph. Concerned, Aragorn called out for Sam.

Sam entered from his own room, having removed waistcoat and vest. "What is it, Strider?"

"Bring me my healer's kit. His neck needs to be cleaned and bandaged. This may be part of the problem tonight."

Sam came first to look, then gave a low whistle. "So, that's been fillin', has it? I'll go get your bag immediately."

He was as good as his word, then brought a basin into which he'd poured the boiling water he'd intended for tea. Aragorn had helped remove the nightshirt again, dropped athelas and other herbs known for their ability to fight infections into the water, and taking some of the clean rags kept in all of the guest houses for use in cleaning that Sam brought to him he began wiping away the drainage until all seemed empty. Aragorn then smeared it with honey and finally placed the spent athelas leaf and a dressing over it, wrapping it all in a carefully arranged bandage to hold it in place. "I'll need to check this daily for about four days, Frodo, to assure it drains fully and begins to heal properly."

"I didn't even realize, Aragorn." Frodo's voice was quiet.

"No, I don't think you would have. The warmth of the bath probably helped it open so it could drain. It's undoubtedly been building up for a few days. We should have your hair cut some to keep it out of the drainage, then. I hate to do so, for you do look good with the longer curls."

Frodo began to laugh gently. "I could do with a hair cut. Sam will do it for me tomorrow after we return, then." He stood and approached the low table where the mug Aragorn had brought with him still sat, picked it up and drank it down, then the water Sam had set beside it. "I suppose this means a different set of draughts to help fight infection, then," he said finally.

"For a few days only, if you can bear them."

Frodo gave a small nod. "Thank you, Aragorn." He sighed. "Another thing to look forward to periodically, I suppose."

"So it appears."

"Thank you again, Aragorn."

Aragorn went into the bathing room and cleaned out the tub, put Frodo's stained towel and the rags to be laundered, blew out most of the candles and washed his hands thoroughly. Sam entered as he was finishing up. "There was no need for you to of done all that," he remonstrated.

"Perhaps. It makes me feel useful, though. I seem to be able to do so little for him."

"Nonsense. He's worlds better for your care, and we all know it. No need to be a ninnyhammer over his stubbornness."

The Man smiled suddenly and pulled Sam to him in pleasure. "Samwise Gamgee, you are the salt of the earth, you know."

Man and Hobbit held each other closely. Sam murmured into Aragorn's chest, "I can't dream why at the first I didn't trust you, my beloved Lord Strider. We're blest to of been with you so long."

Together they went back into Frodo's room. He was asleep, his breathing eased, his face pale, his expression solemn. For a moment the two lingered over him, and the King invoked the Elessar's power to protect him during the night.

As they left the room the breeze stirred the wind rods, and their gentle notes filled Frodo's dreams with memories of the wind in the rigging of ships.


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