Written for Dawn Felagund for her birthday. Beta by RiverOtter.
“Their skin is so dry, Gandalf. I fear for them if we cannot keep it supple and from cracking further. Already there are infections.”
“You are doing all you can for them, Aragorn. Do not worry overmuch. You have called them back from the Gates, and they will remain with us now. They are Hobbits, after all, and have the natural resilience of their kind. Now, you go and rest, and allow others to worry for them for a time. Even if there are infections, you have cleansed them as well as you can, and they will grow no worse while you sleep. You do no one any good if you do not take your own rest. Or do you wish to collapse before the faces of all as you did when your adar sought the first time to remove the shard from the Morgul knife?”
Aragorn gave a weary laugh. “You would throw that in my face,” he sighed, rubbing the back of his hand across his eyes. “But you are right, I fear. Elladan is preparing an ointment to rub upon their skins with the oil of athelas in it and a fair amount of lanolin and other natural oils to help keep the skin soothed. But it will take some time to finish. I will sleep, then. But if there is any change at all, I would have you call me, no matter how much you may believe I need to rest.”
“I swear, Aragorn.”
Assured, the Man went to the tent raised for him, and soon was fallen across the cot, still dressed.
They were not being observed, and so the Lady came to the side of the bed on which they had been laid side by side upon clean sheepskins. She drew down the covering laid over them, looking down on the wizened bodies. The bandages fell away; the hair blew away from their faces.
She wept--wept tears of compassion for them, and caught the tears and anointed them with the salt sweetness. She wept tears of pride, and soothed the cracked skin. She wept tears of joy, and eased the caked dryness. She wept tears of relief, and cleansed away the last of the embedded ash. She wept tears of love, and moistened desiccated lips and reddened eyes. She wept tears of loss, soothing the place where a finger had been severed. Carefully she cleansed them, blessing them with her pity and her grief and her undying love for them and their faithfulness, and ridding them of the last of taint and horror.
Gandalf entered the pavilion raised for the two Ringbearers and paused, aware that they were not alone. He bowed low, seeing the brightness that surrounded them, recognizing the presence of one he’d once companioned, long ago, before he’d taken on his current duty and form. “My Lady Nienna!” he murmured.
He felt her smile, and noted the benediction she bestowed upon him. Then he saw the bandages, now pristinely clean, refasten themselves; saw the covering once again replaced over forms that no longer seemed quite as fragile as they had appeared but moments earlier when he’d left the place alongside Aragorn. He saw hair smoothed, and noted it no longer appeared dry as straw, and noted that tongues and lips were more properly pink. A sweet odor filled the tent--the odor of the freshening breeze over the living Sea.
The flap was pulled aside, and Elrohir entered with a tray on which lay two invalid’s cups. “The Perian Peregrin has turned his head on his own...” he began, then paused, seeing the Light of Mithrandir unveiled, and realizing another presence was there.
The Wizard turned. “Do not hang back, Elrohir. All is well.”
Still the Peredhel bowed profoundly before coming forward and looking down on the two still forms, at which time he smiled. “They are eased,” he said in a soft voice.
Gandalf looked down with pride in his gaze. “Oh, yes, they are eased indeed.”
As the Sun began brightening the sky beyond the Mountains of Shadow, Aragorn woke and turned to sit up, shaking his head to clear it. One of his kinsman from among the Grey Company entered, bearing a basin of warmed water, and a ewer with more besides, as well as soft soap and cloths for washing. Once he was refreshed and his face cleansed, the Man accepted a cup of an herbal drink sent from the cook tent, and hurried first to the beech grove where the enclosure had been raised to allow Frodo and Sam to know some privacy as they slept. Elladan was there already, awaiting him. “Elrohir accepted the ointment from me, and took it within.”
The two entered together. Elrohir and Gandalf between them were turning the bodies of the Hobbits, and now paused to acknowledge the arrival of the new King of Men and Elladan. The pot of ointment lay, open, upon the table that stood between the bed on which the bodies of Frodo and Sam lay and the second bed that had not yet been used. Concerned that it had been left open, Aragorn looked down into it, noting that droplets of moisture lay atop it, almost like tears.
“They look much the better,” Elladan said, drawing his attention to their two sleeping patients as he carefully removed the white shirt that had been used to clothe Sam’s body.
Aragorn followed suit with Frodo, and paused, looking at the bandages with surprise. “They are clean!” he said, his startled eyes meeting those of the Wizard.
Gandalf was smiling. “Yes, they have been cleansed--thoroughly cleansed, both the Hobbits and their bandages. Do not be surprised or alarmed.”
Elrohir’s eyes were still bright with the awe he had felt since his arrival in the enclosure the previous evening. “And I believe that you will find the ointment will prove remarkably effective, Estel.”
Aragorn looked from his foster brother to Gandalf and back, then looked back to Elladan, who appeared as baffled as he was himself. He nodded to Elladan, who began removing the bandages protecting Frodo’s hand, and realized that the hand was far whiter than it had been when he’d bandaged it after removing the roughened edges of the bone and carefully drawing the loose skin over the stump. “I wasn’t able to remove all the traces of blood,” he commented in a low voice.
“No, but they are gone now,” Gandalf affirmed.
But it was as he dipped his fingers into the pot of ointment and began rubbing it into the skin of Frodo’s maimed hand that he felt a special warmth such as he’d never felt in this ointment before. He hummed the invocation for healing as he worked, and suddenly realized he was weeping softly as his hands kneaded Frodo’s palm. Yet he felt not sadness, but a solemn triumph, and he smiled through his tears, which fell barely noticed on Frodo’s arm. And as he began working the ointment into the arm he found it already much more supple, its color less pale than it had been, particularly as he found himself softly singing the verses invoking Lady Nienna’s ministrations for those who had suffered greatly.
The Lady smiled as she heard her name invoked and as she saw the tears of compassion further soothing this special child. Ere she withdrew she laid her hands upon those of the new King-to-be in blessing.
“Well done, thou faithful servant,” she said.
As he watched, Gandalf continued to smile gently.