Frodo appeared to be properly asleep when they returned to his room, but after luncheon he again appeared to be in distress, alternately rubbing at the bandages over his shoulder and searching for the Ring. He muttered frequently, mostly apparently voicing fears he’d known during their journey. Gandalf leaned over him each time he did so, while Bilbo greeted each utterance with growing distress, certain he was somehow to blame for the grief and pain that now troubled this son of his heart.
The Elves and Hobbits again sang over Frodo in the afternoon while Elrond and Strider between them cleansed him with soft, damp cloths and rubbed his skin with herbal balms before wrapping the wound with clean bandages. Once again he quieted, although there was an unaccustomed furrow to his brow as he slept.
When the rest of the Elves dispersed, Elrond asked the smith to remain, and they spoke quietly near the door for a few minutes before the smith agreed to whatever idea had been presented to him, going out with what appeared to be Elvish assurances that he would do his best to achieve what the Master of the Valley had asked of him.
Merry had carried the Ring away this time, leaving it in the examination room, outside which two Elves stood guard when Frodo’s cousin left it there to return to Frodo’s room to join in the singing as he could. It was about an hour after the Elves had left before Frodo appeared to realize again that the Ring was not there, and he became highly agitated before It was brought back to him. At Gandalf’s suggestion a bowl of water was brought and the Ring was tipped into it. But this appeared to do little good, and Frodo kept groping for It until he managed to spill the bowl over his bedding, necessitating having all of the coverings changed, not to mention his nightshirt and bandages as well. The Ring was returned to Its silken nest on the tray, and the tray was set on the table near the hearth.
Afterwards he seemed to be in pain again, and he would groan if anyone brushed his shoulder. As for his left hand—well, it was icy to the touch, and not all of the warm compresses in the world appeared to ease it or his arm in the least.
His muttering was more formless and harder to understand as the day progressed to evening, and he appeared to be growing weaker. After a time the fingers of his right hand twitched and he began to keen, softly at first, and then more painfully.
“What is it? What is happening?” demanded Pippin.
Gandalf gave a sigh that was heavy with grief. “Fetch the Ring, please, Pippin. He realizes once more that It is gone from him.”
Only when the Ring was restored to Its place beside him and his hand was placed over It did the keening stop.
The crease between Frodo’s brows was more pronounced. Not long after sunset Pippin began, “If the shard takes him—you say it will make him like them? Like the Black Riders?”
Gandalf had answered softly, “Yes, Pippin.”
“And he will be a wraith then, and we most likely won’t be able to see him, any more than we could see the Black Riders’ faces, only the clothing they wore?”
Gandalf had nodded reluctantly. “Even so, in time. They lost their fleshly reality long ago, and now it is only the garb that they wear that gives a shape to their nothingness.”
“Is that why Frodo seems almost—almost ghostly now?”
Sam had felt himself shuddering as Pippin put words to what he’d been refusing to acknowledge, that Frodo’s body was growing almost insubstantial in appearance.
“You may be right, Peregrin Took.”
“May we be here in the morning, when Lord Elrond tries to take it out?”
“I strongly suggest that you not be here. It will be a most distressing time.”
“Because—because, if it doesn’t work, then----” Pippin swallowed. “If it doesn’t work,” he tried again, his voice now a whisper, “then he may need the mercy stroke?”
Not long afterward, Strider had gone with Merry and Pippin to see them into their beds, while Elrond led Bilbo away. Gandalf alone stayed by Frodo now, his own face grey with the strain of the last few days, although his expression appeared calm. Sam warned, “I’ll not be leavin’ him, mind. No one will make me leave, no matter how hard it may be.”
“No, Sam, no one will make you leave. I sometimes suspect it is only your presence that reminds him who he is in the world of Arda, and that reminds him that he is yet a Hobbit of the Shire. He responds uniquely to you. It is the only reason you’ve not been sent away with the others when things have been done that are distressing. Your own courage in facing what is done to him helps him to bear it.”
It was reassuring, even if it did not offer him the hope he’d wished, hope that he knew too well might prove vain.
Frodo grew feverish, and he would not willingly accept any fluids they sought to offer him. Sam was prevailed upon to help in the application of boluses intended to keep Frodo from becoming totally dehydrated and to allow some nutrition to be given him.
“I’m glad as him’s not awake,” Sam said. “He’d find it terrible embarrassing.”
“I know,” agreed Strider, whose own forehead was furrowed in sympathy for the insult done to Sam’s Master. “But what else are we to do when he cannot seem to accept fluids or sustenance in any other way?”
Afterward Frodo lay weakly, barely moving. Elrond shook his head. “The shard is moving more quickly now, and I believe that it is the shard’s closeness to its goal that is weakening him so. I am amazed at his basic strength, actually. He continues to fight its purpose, even as weak as he is bodily at the moment. I doubt I have seen such strength of purpose in many in the over two Ages of the Sun I have lived. I sense that he will continue to fight the shard’s influence and purpose to the last measure of his strength, and perhaps beyond. Only because of that have I not suggested the mercy stroke.”
Sam was certain he must have gone stark white. Frodo himself remained mostly unresponsive as his position was changed that he not develop sores where he lay, as slight and weightless as he appeared, against the bed.
Dread was growing in the hearts of those who loved him.