Sam drained and cleansed the spider bite when Frodo awoke and put on a fresh dressing, then brought him out to the balcony to work on cutting his hair, setting a cup of water beside his Master while he trimmed Frodo’s curls. “It has gotten quite long you know, Master. But Strider’s right--it does look particularly fine on you even when long--a shame to cut it off, but there you have it. Can’t let it keep gettin’ fouled with the drainage from your neck--’twill only make it worse, it will.”
Aragorn arrived not long before sunset and listened to Pippin’s description of their trip back up the circles of the city. He was interested in the tale of the gift from the shopkeeper in the Fifth Circle. “Yes, you would need to work on writing as well as everything else you do right-handed, wouldn’t you? I ought to have given that more thought, then.” He examined Frodo’s shorn head. “I will miss the longer curls, of course; but this is more practical with summer coming on and with that bite opening again. You finish the plate Sam has given you and then I’ll check out the drainage once more.”
Pippin examined Frodo critically. “He looks more like a Hobbit and less like a rather diminutive prince of Men.”
Aragorn had brought fresh herbs with him to add to the boiling water which he allowed to cool while he unwrapped Sam’s bandage and dressing. “Well wrapped, Sam,” he commented. “Let’s see how it is this evening.”
There was already a marked improvement in the look of the matter seeping from the wound, and Frodo didn’t flinch from the cleansing as he had the previous evening. Aragorn didn’t use the honey this time, but took Frodo onto the balcony afterwards to cleanse his hair and wash away the last of the stray hairs which made his scalp and neck itch. “There,” he said when done and Frodo had a thick shirt pulled over him and he saw Sam now brushing Frodo’s hair dry. “Now let me work on that hand.” He could tell from the manner in which Frodo held it that the hand was cramping, perhaps partly from the practice he’d done, but also from the cooling of the day as clouds moved in for the promised rain.
As he saw Frodo begin to shiver, the King turned to Lasgon. “If you will please lay fires and see them lit in the day room and Master Frodo’s room, it will help him through the evening.” The boy quickly hurried off to see to it.
Aragorn drew Frodo back into the house while Sam emptied out the basin used for the cleansing of the hair, and they closed the folding doors onto the balcony. The fire was soon lit and merrily dancing on the hearth; and Lasgon was off to the room in which Frodo slept to see the fire lit there as well.
Sam fetched a blanket to wrap about Frodo’s shoulders. Aragorn sighed. He suspected tonight Frodo would be most uncomfortable with the cooling of the weather and the rain--before such weather had appeared to bring on the dreams of Frodo’s imprisonment in the Tower of Cirith Ungol. He carefully massaged the right hand, and felt Frodo himself touching on the Elessar stone to ease the cramping of the palm and fingers. The door opened and closed and Gandalf entered with Gimli, Legolas, and Legolas’s brother Tharen carrying a couple bottles of wine.
For the supper they shared Aragorn fixed a small goblet of watered wine for Frodo laced with herbs to ease cramping and to fight the infection in his neck, and saw the Hobbit drink it down slowly. “Good enough,” he said. “There’s no need to drink this swiftly. What do you plan to do tomorrow?”
Pippin shrugged. “I’ve not been set to serve you particularly, although Captain Gilmaros has indicated he might have me watch at one of the gates as they are short handed at the moment.”
Sam said, “If Mr. Frodo’s well enough, I’ll be workin’ in the gardens for the Houses of Healing with Legolas.”
Merry sighed. “I’d volunteered to stand guard of honor before the tomb where Lord Théoden lies.”
“My father and I,” said Gimli, “will be going down with the folk from the Guild of Masons and the engineers to discuss how the gates might be replaced and the lower walls and battlements repaired. My father indicates he himself would like to do a good deal of the forgework for the gates, and I believe Dorlin and perhaps Orin will aid in the restoration of the figures. But it’s not going to be a quick matter, Aragorn. It may take years to do a proper job of it.”
Gandalf smiled. “Tomorrow you get to give your audiences alongside Prince Faramir, I fear, Aragorn. I’ll be checking out the fields of the Pelennor once more in search of any more fell weapons, and Prince Imrahil and Prince Tharen will be going with me.”
“The carpenter is coming tomorrow morning with the stepped stool he’s prepared for our use in the kitchen,” Frodo indicated, “And I may be busy with my own projects a good part of the day. I doubt I’ll leave the house much save for a walk in the early afternoon.”
“Bard and his folk will be busy in the lower city much of the day discussing trade agreements with the Guild of Merchants, and it appears I will be much isolated within the Citadel. It will be difficult after the relative freedom of today. But Imrahil’s wife, youngest son and daughter are arriving tomorrow afternoon, as well as a company from Fornost. We met with their outriders today.”
“Then we shall all be busy enough on our own affairs,” Frodo said. “When will we have the chance you promised to meet with the bankers?”
“In three days, I hope, Frodo,” Aragorn replied.
“Very good, then. I saw some items in the market in the Fourth Circle I wish to purchase as gifts for our family back in the Shire for when we return home,” Frodo commented.
Shortly after, Frodo indicated he was returning to bed, pleading fatigue from the day’s climb through the city. The others wished him well, and Sam went after a time to see to it he was indeed abed and resting, and returned to indicate Frodo had taken a book to bed with him but appeared properly settled in for the night. He didn’t remain long, following after Frodo not much more than half a mark later. Merry and Pippin decided to walk down to the Wounded Drum in the Fifth Circle, a tavern much frequented by Guards of the Citadel, and the Dwarf and Elves followed after them.
Lasgon had gone to his chamber, and so Aragorn and Gandalf went into the kitchen to wash the dishes after the meal. As they worked, Gandalf looked at the King and gave a snort of amusement. “If Master Galador could see you now, Aragorn, he would have apoplexy; and Denethor would assume you’d lost your mind. The High King of Men, washing dishes like a common husband!”
Aragorn laughed briefly. “That is what I’d truly prefer to be, as you well know, my friend.”
“True. Elrond has managed to leave you in quite the situation, hasn’t he?”
“Yes. If he will leave for the Undying Lands, he fully intends for the greater part of Middle Earth to be under the direction in the end of the most Elf-like Man possible. Is that why he chose to foster me so early, do you think?”
“It is always possible that was a factor as well as the early death of your father and the search for you by Sauron’s folk.”
The Man’s expression grew saddened. “I don’t wish to see Middle Earth lose him or the Lady or Lord Celeborn, Gandalf.”
“Our time is passed, Aragorn, although I don’t believe Lord Celeborn will leave as yet.”
“Lord Celeborn would think to remain here? How he will bear it when Lorien begins to fade, with the Lady Galadriel returned to her own people, I cannot imagine.”
“The feeling of urgency common to mortals is not in him, as you know. He knows he will come to her soon enough, and will have the rest of the life of Arda to spend with her.”
After several moments of silence, Aragorn said. “Your use of the word our indicates that you do not wish to linger.”
After a pause the Wizard finally answered, “I did not say so.”
“Yet you say so by not saying so. I do not wish to lose you, also, Gandalf.”
“Such is life for mortals, my Lord Elessar.”
“It will be difficult enough for myself--but for Arwen--her mother already gone, her grandmother and father going together, her brothers having finally to make the choice....”
Gandalf stopped in the wiping of dishes and looked directly at his mortal friend. “Aragorn, my job is done, and I would not wish in the end to become no better than Sauron or than Saruman hoped to be. Even more, you, Éomer, Faramir, Éowyn, Bard, Sam, Pippin, Merry, Legolas, Gimli--you are not children any more. You have grown up, all of you, all of you grown up ready to take your place as leaders of your peoples. Your own example is already setting into motion reforms in Rhun and Harad you will not appreciate yet for some years, and even in Umbar there are those who are beginning to think far differently than their people are accustomed to think, again largely sparked by you.
“You are the finest of Men to have been born in the last Age, and are as great a Man and will be as great a King if you continue on as you’ve begun as Elros himself.”
“Yet I will not likely live half his lifespan.”
“Would you wish more?”
The Man shuddered. “Certainly not! Already most I’ve loved have gone before me, and those I love now among mortals will also go before me, including Sam and Frodo. Which is another gap in what you said, leaving Frodo out of your count. Is his life indeed likely to be so short?”
“You are the healer trained by Elrond--tell me what you know in your heart.”
Aragorn gave a deep sigh, listened to make certain that neither Frodo nor Samwise was close enough to overhear. Finally he said very quietly, “He strengthens very slowly. His digestion is chancy at best, and can be set off balance by anything, physical or emotional. He is subject to feelings of grief and loss, and finds that he still desires what he hated so deeply and hates now for what It has done to him. He tires far too easily. He is plagued by pain in his hand and still in his shoulder as well, although he doesn’t mention it. His heart was damaged by what he endured, and although some healing has found it, it remains yet very vulnerable. And still nothing Elladan, Elrohir, or I can do seems able to pierce the darkness at the heart of the bite of the spider, which although it so far has caused him little distress I fear in the end is beyond the power of Men or Elves to deal with properly. There is something there I do not like, Gandalf. It opened suddenly last night and began to drain.”
Gandalf’s face became concerned. “It did? I know not what this means, but I, too, am troubled by it.”
Aragorn reached into the cooling wash water and pulled out the goblet from which Frodo had drunk at dinner. Rubbing it lightly with the cloth he used, he continued, “He might remain, or suddenly die. What I fear, however, is that a sudden shock to him will push him into physical and spiritual decline. If that happens, he will not take it well. He will do his best to hide his decline from all, but it will rob him, I fear, of his ability to know joy; and that is already much diminished.”
Gandalf said nothing, merely continuing to wipe a saucer he’d already wiped dry several minutes past.
Finally Aragorn continued on, “I don’t know if Adar or my brothers ever told you, but when I was small I used to imagine I had brothers of my own, a twin brother and a younger one. Since we’ve come to Minas Tirith I’ve so strongly felt as if Frodo were my imaginary twin brother. It’s all I can do to keep from addressing him as Gil-galadrion at times. I almost did last night before we went to the feast. Then, this evening to see him with his curls cut short--it was almost as if I were looking at someone else, only a Hobbit again--not that Frodo has ever been only a Hobbit. And even Pippin commented he was looking like a Prince of Men before Sam cut his hair.”
“You imagined two brothers, and identify Frodo with the one you imagined your twin? Have you ever felt you’d found the other as well?”
Aragorn shrugged. “Lately I have.”
Gandalf’s expression was carefully neutral, although the look he gave the Man was intense. “Whom?”
“You won’t laugh? Sam.” He rinsed the goblet and handed it to Gandalf, who realizing he was still wiping the same saucer hastily set it down to take the wine glass.
“Samwise Gamgee? I sincerely doubt he sees himself as the equivalent of a prince among the Dúnedain.”
“Of course not, Gandalf. But his awareness is so great. Certainly he doesn’t appreciate just how intelligent he is, thinking as he does that Frodo is the wisest of all Hobbits, with the possible exception of Bilbo. Yet Frodo depends heavily on his intelligence and observations, not to speak of his faithfulness and common sense. And lately I’ve also come to do the same. And with whom else can I speak as deeply on the subject of gardening?”
Gandalf laughed. “If you must imagine any to be your brothers, you would be hard pressed to find better than these two.”
The Man smiled sadly. “I will miss them terribly when they leave to go back to their own land.”
“The Shire will need them, Aragorn--it will need each of the four of them.”
Aragorn said softly, “Each of the four of them, including what time Frodo can give them?”
“He was properly named, and they will need his wisdom and compassion, although they may never fully appreciate what he gives to them while he remains in Middle Earth.”
As he finished the last of the dishes and turned to empty the pan in which he’d washed them, Aragorn took a deep breath, held it, then released it in a sigh of grief. “I’ve ever hated Sauron and his creatures; but I’ve developed an even deeper hatred of his creation, for what It has cost him and what It costs all of Middle Earth if we must indeed lose him.”
Not long after, Aragorn left to return to the Citadel, charging Gandalf to summon him if Frodo showed any distress. Half a mark later the damp breeze which had blown much of the day quickened, becoming a distinct wind. Soon after a storm broke over the city and the Pelennor, and when at last those who’d gone down to the Wounded Drum returned they were shaking off their cloaks before they hung them on the hall tree in the entranceway. Merry and Pippin, who had duty early, bade the rest goodnight and went to their room, and the rest gathered in the day room to speak for a time before Tharen returned to his assigned quarters in the Citadel.
He is lying, bound hand and foot, on his side on a pile of rags and refuse in the corner of a stone room. His back and side ache, for he has been beaten with a flail of some kind with multiple cords, each ending tied around a bone spur which has dug into his back. He can feel the stiffening where the blood has dried, the pulling of the scabs as he seeks, only briefly, to change his position. A red lamp burns in a suspended lantern in the center of the room, its light eerie. He can hear from below the murmur of voices, then the clash of weapons in the distance.
“No! You can’t save me! They will only kill you! Let me die here! I’ve failed, for they’ve taken it! It’s too late! Aragorn, it’s too late! Too late!”
Gandalf straightened. He’d heard something, but not a cry out loud. Suddenly he rose and hurried through the bathing room and the side door into Frodo’s room. The Hobbit lay huddled on his side. He wasn’t crying out in his nightmare, was whispering instead and he curled in upon himself. “Too late! Flee, Aragorn, flee! It’s too late--they found It, took It--It’s already on Its way to him! Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli--they will only kill you! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”
Legolas had followed after the Wizard, heard the whispered pleas. Gandalf turned to look at him. “Go summon Aragorn--he was expecting this.”
A nod, and the Elf was off, advising Gimli to get some water boiling as he passed.
Gandalf leaned over the bed. “Frodo! Frodo--it’s but a dream. Waken and let it go, Frodo.”
The forehead was drenched in sweat and the skin felt clammy. The Hobbit curled in upon himself as he lay on his side. His eyes were open but unseeing. The wind rods where they hung outside the glazed window danced and struck against one another and the closed casement, no pleasant music this time, but a constant clash of noise. Frodo didn’t waken at Gandalf’s touch--if anything he became only more fearful and agitated.
Gandalf opened the door to the parlor room where Sam slept, and noted that Sam, too, was sleeping restlessly--Sam, who usually didn’t move at night. Gandalf leaned over the bed, and Sam immediately awoke, reaching, Gandalf noted, for the sword which lay by him. Gandalf stepped well back, speaking quietly. “It’s only me, Master Samwise. Your Master needs you.”
Sam sat up, the sheath in one hand, his other on the hilt, considering as he woke fully. His eyes cleared as he looked up at Gandalf, and he nodded as he threw back the covers and set the sheathed sword back into its place on the far side of his bed. As Sam rose and drew an open night robe over his nightshirt, Gandalf was left to think on how the quest had affected all if, on a night of impending storm, Sam felt compelled to sleep with a weapon to hand. How well this reflected what he knew of the Man who would soon be coming down from the Citadel--if he’d slept at all, he, too, would most likely be sleeping with a knife at hand. The legacy of a bitter time of mistrust and danger on all sides. Gandalf grieved that these gentle, caring individuals all had been forced to learn to keep a weapon close to protect themselves and others.
Sam had hurried through to Frodo’s room and was now stopped by the bed, listening to the continued whispering. “It’s the tower again as he’s dreaming of,” the gardener said quietly. “His eyes are open, yet he’s not seein’ us.”
“Yes, so I noted,” the Wizard murmured in reply.
Sam took the right hand between his own hands. It was held closed, and he could feel the spasming of its muscles. “Master, Master, Frodo--it’s time to waken, me dear one. It’s but a dream, Master.”
Frodo looked at Sam blankly. “It’s too late--they took It! Go West, Sam--they can’t deny you! Sam, flee!”
“Oh, Frodo, dearling, dear Master, it’s but a dream.” But when Frodo still lay caught in the images of the illusion, Sam sighed, then began to sing. “In Western lands beneath the Sun the flowers may bloom in spring....”
Gandalf leaned over the small hearth and worked to waken the fire from its embers, added in a couple more logs. Frodo was calming, but still not awakening, not fully. He lay, listening to the sung words, listening and weeping without sound. At last he took a deep, sobbing breath and woke, actually looked into Sam’s eyes.
“I woke you. Oh, Sam, I’m sorry.”
“It’s all right, Mr. Frodo. It’s all right.”
“The hand--it aches so, Sam. My back, where they beat me, is stiff with the dried blood.”
A flash of lightning from outside followed by the crash of thunder, and Frodo visibly shuddered, pulling again back in on himself.
Gandalf went to make tea, and was there waiting with Gimli for the water to finish coming to a boil when Aragorn and Legolas came in. Aragorn opened his bag and pulled out several pouches and two vials, took a pinch of each herb and dropped it into Frodo’s mug, poured the boiling water over the herbs, and reached for the honey pot and a stick of cinnamon. The remainder of the water was poured into a basin, and he dropped in a fresh leaf of athelas and some other herbs, then nodded to Gandalf to bring it with them as he took the mug and carried it through day room and Sam’s parlor into the study where Frodo lay, still curled in a ball.
The spider bite had seeped a goodly amount of matter and blood, and it had escaped the dressing over it, had soaked the bandage which held the dressing in place and the nightshirt, had dried on Frodo’s back where he’d laid back on it.
Sam helped Aragorn ease Frodo into a sitting position and to remove the nightshirt, and the Man carefully unwound the bandage, having at times to soak it to free it from Frodo’s skin. They helped Frodo from the bed to a stool, and looking at the lymph and blood which had fouled even the bottom sheet Gandalf quickly stripped the bed and carried the sheets away, then returned to make it anew.
“The bite was barely seeping anything when I cleaned it but a few hours ago,” the Man commented as he worked. “Yet look at how much it has let go in just the short time since.”
Frodo said, “I’d dreamt it was where they beat me, Aragorn.”
“Yes, I see.”
Gandalf advised the Hobbit, “I’m placing a folded towel where your shoulder and neck lie, in case it should happen again, Frodo.”
At last Aragorn finished cleansing Frodo’s back, and began working on the wound itself. He was able to express some more pus and a bit more blood, and then at last it appeared completely drained. Once again he settled the spent athelas leaf from the basin over the bite, placed a fresh, dry dressing over it, and wound clean bandaging around Frodo’s neck and shoulders to hold it all in place.
As he worked the storm moved off, further and further, and at last the lightning and thunder came from miles away, and the rain on the window was no longer a steady drumming but a quiet tinkle; the wind rods no longer clashed but struck one another in a gentle series of pleasing tones.
“Beef tea tomorrow to help rebuild the blood, Frodo--beef tea and liver.”
The Hobbit made a distinct face of revulsion. “You would have me lose all indeed, would you? Liver?”
“It’s that or powdered hops infused in the beef tea.”
“If it’s as well with you, I’ll take the hops. If you forced me to eat liver I know I’d only remain nauseous throughout the day.”
“Better the hops than that, then. All right, hops it shall be.”
At last the bandage was tied off, and between them Gandalf and Sam eased a clean nightshirt over Frodo, then a robe over his shoulders. Aragorn now worked on Frodo’s hand, working an oil with eucalyptus and aloe into the skin, now and then touching on the Elessar stone he wore to add to the easing. The whole time Frodo sipped at the draught Aragorn had fixed for him, finally drinking the remainder of it off when at last the Man straightened and pulled back. Sam had the water ready for him once he was done, and he drank that gladly. “This one wasn’t as bad,” he commented once he set the tumbler which had held the water down. “If you will pardon me....” He rose and went to the privy.
Aragorn helped him into bed once he’d returned. Frodo sipped from his refilled water glass, then at last consented to lie back.
“Rain seems to bring on that particular dream,” he commented as Aragorn pulled the linens and blankets back over him.
“I’d noticed,” Aragorn said. “I’ll tell you this--they didn’t waken me, for I was sitting and reading myself.”
“I’m glad they didn’t awaken you. I must have called out and awakened all here.”
“Gimli, Legolas, and I were all in the day room together, talking quietly. And you managed not to awaken Sam at all--I did that,” Gandalf assured him.
“And you needn’t worry ’bout wakin’ me, Master--it’s what I’m here for, after all,” Sam added.
“I see,” Frodo sighed. “Well, I’m all right now, and you can all be off with you and get your rest. Go on, and thank you.”
Sam patted Frodo’s now relaxed hand, smiled and murmured wishes for a more relaxing rest of the night; then Gandalf smiled down at him and left as well. Only Aragorn remained.
“Why don’t you go on, also? You’ve a busy day tomorrow from the sounds of it.”
“I’d like to see you sleeping before I go.” Aragorn pulled the chair near and sat. “You need your own rest, small brother. I’ve already charged Eldamir to bring you your morning draught.”
“You wouldn’t forget that, would you, even with what I’ve had tonight?”
“That’s for the drainage and the disturbed sleep, and you know it, Frodo.”
“All right--I give in, my Lord Healer.”
The Man smiled, and set his hand on the side of Frodo’s neck, felt the now gentle, even pulse. “This is much better.”
Frodo yawned. “I would hope so. Why was there so much more from the bite, do you suppose?”
“I have no idea.”
“I thought it was from where they beat me.”
“So you said. Sleep, small brother.”
It didn’t take long for Frodo to again drift away into sleep, and at last Aragorn stood over him, breathing a silent prayer that the rest of the night be restful. He looked out the window where the sky was already clearing, and he reached up to open the casement again to allow the now gentle breeze to enter the room. He placed another log on the fire, then put out the candles which had been lit; seeing Frodo was smiling softly now as he slept, he went out, gently pulling the door closed after him. He looked down at Sam where he already slept, noted the sword lying near at hand, and grieved for it, although he knew it was the same for himself; and after offering a prayer for blessing for this one went on out into the day room. Dwarf, Elf, and Wizard sat there again, goblets beside Gandalf and Legolas, a mug of ale beside Gimli.
“Would you like some ale or wine before you go, Aragorn?” Legolas asked.
“No, but I thank you. I’ll but give a look at Pippin and Merry.”
He opened the door. Pippin’s bed was a tangle of coverings, but his uniform was neatly folded with his mail on the chair by his bed, and his sword also lay where he could reach it easily at need. Merry actually woke and sat up, and the Man could see his new sword also lay already drawn, where he could grasp it easily.
“Frodo have another bad dream?” Merry whispered.
Aragorn nodded. “The spider bite also drained a good deal more. It’s cleansed now, and he’s asleep once more.”
“Good enough, then. Good night and rest well, Strider.”
The King smiled. “I will, Merry. Sleep well, Sir Knight of the Mark.”
Hardorn stood outside the house, his bow in hand. A nod between the two Men, and they withdrew, back up to the Citadel once more.