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The Time of Probing
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Not long after, Elrond’s people brought the tall table on which Frodo had lain the previous day, and after clearing away Sam’s pallet set the table in its place. A second small but high table with a metal top was set up nearby, its top cleansed, and was draped with a clean cloth. Lamps were hung here and there about the table, and freshly ironed linens were set nearby for use. Strider left the room briefly, and while he was gone a special washstand was brought in, on it a metal basin. Elrond entered, and behind him the same Elves who’d been there the preceding day to sing over Frodo. Tall mirrors were now brought in and positioned to focus the light down on the table top. Lady Arwen entered with others carrying a number of basins that steamed, some of which smelled as if they were filled with solutions of vinegar and water, others as if various herbs had been steeped in them.

Strider reentered, dressed now as was Elrond in a clean white robe whose sleeves did not fall quite to the elbows. The Lady Arwen wrapped the lower faces of both the Man and her father with bandages to cover the mouth and nose. “That,” Gandalf murmured into Sam’s ear, “is to limit the amount of their breath that might touch Frodo and the wound directly—they have learned that to breathe directly on a wound while it is open can increase the chance that it might become infected.”

The large table was cleansed and a clean sheet of sparkling white was draped over it. Frodo was carefully stripped of the nightshirt, and he was lifted gently by Strider from the bed onto the table. Both Man and Elf cleansed their hands and arms in the basin, and water in which kingsfoil had been steeped was poured over their hands and wrists. Lady Arwen carefully wrapped loose bandaging over Frodo’s mouth and nose as she had with Strider and Elrond, and then draped a second clean white sheet over Frodo’s body. A brazier was brought in, and pleasantly scented oil soon was set alight. A tray of fine knives, tongs, tweezers, and other instruments was set upon the smaller table by the woman healer who’d been among the singers the preceding day, and Sam saw that her hair was drawn back under a muslin net, as was that of Lady Arwen, and that she also wore bandages about her face so that she could not breathe directly on the instruments she hovered over.

Strider, whom Frodo knew and trusted, appeared to be there mostly to soothe Frodo into a deep sleep and to watch over his breathing and condition, while the woman healer presided over the instruments and saw them given into Elrond’s hands and cleansed with water and fire when he was finished with them. The Lady Arwen directed the assembled Elves in the singing, the first song being the Invocation for Healing that Strider had sung so often over Frodo during their journey from Weathertop to Imladris.

Sam found himself glad he was not tall enough to see what specifically was being done to his Master, but he saw enough to know that Frodo’s shoulder had been opened and that the Elf was doing his best to learn the path the shard was following. Draped cloths would become bloodied and were lifted away by the Lady Arwen and replaced with new ones, and it seemed that Strider was constantly wiping away blood from Frodo’s shoulder. Sam felt his belly tighten at the growing tension and the increasing scent of blood and the various herbal scents. He was grateful that Gandalf sat by him on the edge of the bed, his arm about Sam’s shoulders. Suddenly, however, the Wizard rose, advancing to stand behind Strider, who had begun to tremble.

“I am sorry, Ada,” the Man whispered as he took a step backward—--

----and collapsed into Gandalf’s arms, crumpling as does a child who has been struck unexpectedly.

Followed by the Lady Arwen, the Wizard bore Strider away, and the woman healer stepped forward immediately to take his place.

Glorfindel had come to Sam’s side, and as the Elf lord did not display any great concern, Sam felt himself relax. “Come,” Glorfindel murmured, “join us in the song, as I believe that you know it well enough by now.”

Sam took a shuddering breath and closed his eyes briefly, and he began to sing also, his voice soon steadying as it joined the harmony sung by the others.

Soon enough Frodo, his torso already wound with bandages, was redressed in a clean nightshirt and settled back into the bed, and the woman healer was gently coaxing him to swallow a draught from a new invalid’s cup. Gandalf returned, assuring Elrond, “He could not maintain such alertness indefinitely. He is now deeply asleep in his own bed, and should sleep until mid-afternoon at the soonest.”

“I am not surprised,” Elrond said. He was washing his arms again, and Sam saw that there was blood on the front of his robe. “He feels responsible for Master Frodo’s safety, and wishes to see him healed.

“But,” he added, looking down at the Hobbit, “although I could not remove the shard this time, at least I have found it, and have added my own strength to that Master Frodo himself exercises over it to keep it at bay. We shall try again in two days, and I do believe that we shall be able to remove it then. It was behind the major blood vessels—I could not have removed it now without risking him bleeding to death. But it must come out into the open before it can achieve its goal, and at that time I shall have it. And by then I am certain that Aragorn shall be able to assist as is needed.”

Sam said, “Then it’s to be done all over again?”

“I fear so, Master Gamgee. But we are actually in a better position now to defeat its purpose than we were. Now, tell me how it is that my fosterling ended up awake this morning when I had expected that he would sleep once he was settled by the side of Frodo Baggins?”

Gandalf related what had occurred when Frodo had begun seeking for the Ring as he slept. “He never truly returned to consciousness, but there is no question that he felt the separation and feared as to what the Ring might be doing when It was away from his guard,” he concluded.

Elrond considered the sleeping Hobbit with concern. “I still hold that it would be best not to have the Ring anywhere near him as long as he bears the shard of the Morgul knife within his chest,” he repeated. “Who knows how much the foul thing might do Its best to speed the shard’s journey? At least he lies now quiescent.”

“Perhaps,” Gandalf said, obviously not convinced.

Sam was sent off to get himself a meal, and by the time he returned it was to find that Mr. Bilbo was there in the chair where he’d sat the day before, a plate of breakfast on a newly brought table beside him as he watched over Frodo’s sleeping form, with Gandalf settling the footstool under his feet.

“He’s been still while you’ve been gone, Sam,” the Wizard assured him.

Sam nodded, reporting, “I saw the others eatin’ second breakfast, and they intend to come as soon as they’re done to see as how my Master’s doing. They was upset not to be allowed to come in earlier when the wound was being probed.”

Merry and Pippin followed Master Elrond back into the chamber, and together they watched as he coaxed Frodo to drink a dark broth, then saw to his needs, afterwards cleansing him with warmed, damp cloths and seeing him dressed anew in another nightshirt. Frodo appeared to have more color in his cheeks now, yet seemed to be in more pain. Sam took Frodo’s left hand in his own, and found it if possible even colder than it had been. Alarmed, he reported this to the Elf, who appeared even more concerned than before. He ordered the nightshirt removed again, and warm compresses were brought and wrapped around Frodo’s left arm and shoulder, to be changed every five minutes or so until noon.

Sam, Merry, and Pippin took turns changing the compresses, once Elrond was certain that they were competent to do so properly, and he left and brought back another invalid’s cup filled with a draught that he administered carefully to Frodo, stopping once when it went down the wrong way and Frodo started to strangle on it. Afterward Frodo appeared to be fretful, and his head began to thrash upon the pillow. He again began to scrabble at his side with his right hand, searching first for the trouser pocket and then the one in his waistcoat that were not there, murmuring, “Where is It? Where is It?” over and over in a barely discernible whisper, growing increasingly upset with each repetition.

At last, with a nod of encouragement from Gandalf, Sam again fetched the tray with the silk-swathed Ring upon it from the other room to which it had been removed and set it down by Frodo’s side, and guided his Master’s hand to the place where the Ring lay under the fabric. But the stricken Hobbit would not rest until his fingers touched the metal itself, clutching at It weakly before he succumbed to a far deeper slumber.

Elrond’s concern grew visibly.

An Elf brought the four wakeful Hobbits elevenses, and after they were done Merry and Pippin were convinced to return the trays to the kitchens and to take a walk out of doors for a time, although neither Sam nor Bilbo could be coaxed to leave Frodo’s side. Soon afterward the Elf woman Meliangiloreth arrived with another broth that she fed to Frodo a sip at a time, although she soon began to cast uncomfortable glances at the tray on which the Ring lay. Finally, at a whispered request from Gandalf, Sam removed the tray from the bed and the room itself, making certain that the silk lay doubled over the Ring. Meliangiloreth appeared much relieved, but when she was done with feeding Frodo, he lay breathing in a labored manner for a time before again he was searching for the Ring. Meliangiloreth appeared very alarmed, and Sam flew to fetch the tray back again. Only when his fingers again touched the bared gold of the Ring did Frodo quieten, at which Meliangiloreth appeared confused. When Lord Elrond returned to the room she told him, “I could hear It—the Ring, I mean—calling to me, as long as It lay there on Its tray by Master Frodo here, until Master Samwise bore It away. But when Master Frodo became upset at Its absence and It was brought back to him, once the Hobbit’s fingers lay upon It I no longer heard Its voice seeking to tempt me!”

The two Elves and Gandalf exchanged thoughtful looks.

Gandalf had to command Sam to leave the room and take luncheon in the main dining hall for the place, and Bilbo agreed to return to his own rooms to rest for a time once Sam was finished with a meal and had taken a good bath. Sam had to admit he felt much better for the time spent outside Frodo’s sickroom, and bade Mr. Bilbo to rest well as the old Hobbit was accompanied away by the Elf he’d learned was known as Lindir. Gandalf left for a time, indicating he needed to go out and smoke a pipe of Old Toby and think deeply, and the Lady Arwen returned with her sewing and her invalid’s cup, giving Frodo sips at intervals of about twenty minutes. Sam lay down upon his pallet for a time and felt much rested when he awoke after perhaps two hours. Merry and Pippin had ham and pickled cucumbers between slices of bread ready for him to eat, with a mug of excellent ale beside it. The Wizard had returned, and sat upon the chair where Bilbo had sat earlier in the day.

Frodo lay with his hand upon the tray on which the Ring reposed, although he seemed content enough to have It covered by the silk, at least for the moment. Strider came in, neatly dressed in clothing of a rich green embroidered with gold threads, his beard and hair neatly trimmed. He was still rubbing sleep out of his eyes, but there was no question that he also looked much restored as he bowed formally to the Lady Arwen and then leaned over Frodo to check his condition. On hearing his voice, Frodo appeared to relax somewhat, and Sam thought he could perhaps see a trace of a smile.

Not long afterward, the company of Elves who had sung over Frodo before returned, but most appeared uncomfortable until Gandalf asked Merry to carry the tray with the Ring on it to the room in which Frodo had first been examined and remain with it until the Elves were finished. Again they sang a number of songs while Strider and Elrond cleansed and redressed Frodo’s wound. Again the three remaining Hobbits joined the Elves in the songs that were most familiar to them, and Gandalf appeared pleased when they did so. How small Mr. Frodo looked when they were done, lying alone in that great bed, his face nearly the same color as the linens against which he lay.

Elrond quietly thanked the others, and they all left, including the Lady Arwen. Elrond now did his best to see Frodo fed what appeared to be a rich broth, but halfway through again Frodo began to strangle upon a sip, and it was quite some time before he finished coughing and choking.

“Is he going to be all right?” asked Pippin, concerned as Merry returned with the tray and set it again on the side table.

“I believe so,” Elrond answered. “However, we will have to watch that he not develop lung fever from accidentally inhaling anything into his lungs.”

Frodo’s breathing appeared troubled, and he seemed to be swallowing frequently. Before nightfall he was feverish and he was coughing almost constantly. “The pale King!” he muttered at one point. “Has a knife!” Some time later he whimpered, “Why’d I dance on the table?”

A bowl of steaming water was brought, and into it Strider cast two leaves of kingsfoil after breathing upon them and rolling them between his hands, singing that invocation of his under his breath.

“Where is It?” Frodo suddenly gasped out once more, scrabbling with his good arm at the places where his trouser and waistcoat pockets ought to have been, then reaching futilely across his body to search the missing pockets on the left side. He appeared frantic! Then he went into another spasm of coughing that left him breathless. Gandalf swiftly signed to Sam, who again retrieved the tray and set it on Frodo’s good side, guiding his right hand to lie upon it. At least Frodo’s face grew calmer as Aragorn lifted him into a sitting position and leaned him forward to pound against his back with the heal of his hand, hoping to jar whatever it was that caused Frodo to cough so out of his lungs. At last Frodo managed to cough up a great wad of phlegm that had spots reminiscent of the broth administered earlier, and after that he lay back in exhaustion. “On the table,” he whispered. “Stupid thing!” But with his hand resting on the Ring he soon drifted into a quieter if still feverish sleep, apparently reassured all was as well as it might be.

It was another bout of warm compresses after that, and frequent sips of tea that appeared to be made with willow bark and other herbs intended to fight the fever and the possibility of infection. Bilbo was ordered off to his own bed, and not long afterward the same happened with Merry and Pippin. None of the Elves or half-Elven appeared able to abide being near to the Ring, so Sam had to remove It from time to time; but after being separated from It for more than a few minutes Frodo would become frantic until It was beside him once more. Now and then Frodo would mutter about their misadventures along the way, often expressing worry as to how much danger he’d brought his friends into, and each time Gandalf would listen closely to what was said. Sam lay upon his pallet during the night, listening to the little talk between Gandalf and Elrond, for Strider had again been sent off to sleep, and this time the Man did not demur, nor return.

And when at last Sam slept, it was to see, over and over, the vision of Frodo suddenly reappearing from the emptiness into which he’d disappeared when he’d put the Ring upon his finger, his shirt rent and his shoulder bleeding in an alarmingly sluggish manner, gasping in his surprise at the pain of his wound.

It was a restful night for none of them.


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