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The Time of Probing
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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13
XIII

XIII


Gandalf ushered the Hobbits out of Frodo’s room this time and down to the dining hall. “Eat!” he directed. “And then afterwards go outside for a time! Go take that pony of yours some great treat, for he needs both the surety of your company and your assurance that all now goes well with Frodo. And take an extra apple or two for my horse. I am told he has been staying close by your pony and Bilbo’s as well. You will know him easily enough—he is a great silver creature of especial lordliness. His name is Shadowfax, and he is from Rohan, where he was the lord of the horse herds of the Rohirrim. Tell him that I will come to see him when I am able. You will do that? Good!” And with that he hurried back toward the room in which Frodo slept.

All was a-bustle when they quitted the dining hall, the pockets of Sam, Merry, and Pippin filled with apples and carrots to share with all beasts of burden they might come across. Bilbo left them as they entered the main hall. “I think that I will go back and sit by Frodo for a time. You three go along now—I will see to it he remains well.”

They agreed, and he disappeared back toward the living quarters. Sam watched after him thoughtfully. “Old Mr. Bilbo’s aged some since he left the Shire,” he noted, “although I swear as him still don’t look that much over eighty.”

Pippin was nodding his agreement. “If, as Gandalf tells us, that it’s the Ring that’s kept him appearing young all this time, but he’s finally beginning to tire as older folk do, I wonder what would happen if the Ring were to be destroyed.” He gave his cousin and Sam a troubled look. “Do you think that that Ring can be destroyed? How could it be done, do you think?”

Sam shrugged, remembering Gandalf telling Frodo that his own parlor fire wouldn’t be anywhere near hot enough to do any harm to the Ring, and Frodo’s surprise to find It was still cool when the Wizard dropped it into his hand from the fire-tongs. “Don’t know as I could even guess,” he answered. “But I certainly hope as these great ones can get that done! The world’ll be far better served with It out of the way for good and all, if I can say so as perhaps shouldn’t.”

Lindir was hurrying across the entrance hall as they approached the door, but paused at Merry’s hail. “I may not stay to talk,” he explained. “Already visitors approach from down the High Pass—Elves, Men, and Dwarves, apparently. I must so advise Lord Elrond, for each company, I am told, is filled with dread and purpose. And other parties arrived but last night from Mithlond and Lindon and the Breelands. If you go out, be careful of the Men and Dwarves, for I fear that they will be much distracted and they may not heed you. If you will pardon me….” And he continued upon his way, sped on by the need to impart his message.

A party of five Dwarves was crossing the bridge once they came out into the forecourt, and they heard one of the Elves identifying them to another of his kind as coming from above Fornost and from the Blue Mountains, which Sam knew to lie somewhere west of the Shire. It was where Thorin Oakenshield and the other Dwarves who’d gone with Bilbo had dwelt during their exile from the Lonely Mountain, as he remembered the tale. But Fornost—where was that? Somewhere north, maybe? The Elf who’d asked about the Dwarves was not one he’d seen before in his brief explorations of the Last Homely House, so perhaps he was one of those Lindir had indicated had arrived the previous evening. Two Men were coming from the stables as they approached it, and they were speaking so between themselves they did not appear to note the Hobbits until they were almost past them, casting curious glances behind them but not stopping to do more.

Bill was out in the pasture again, and looked up as they approached, obviously pleased to see them and coming to the fence to greet them, as did the old pony Sam now knew to be Bilbo’s own steed. There were several horses in the pasture, most of whom didn’t bother to give the Hobbits any attention, although Asfaloth and a great silver-grey horse did pause in their grazing and drifted their way.

“Is that Gandalf’s horse?” Merry asked. “He’s a true beauty, whomsoever he might consider his master.”

Sam gladly gave his treats to Bill, seeing to it that his companion and the two horses also got at least an apple and carrot each. “Mr. Frodo’s doin’ well now, they say. They finally managed to fetch that foul shard out of him, and he should waken soon, tomorrow by the latest, I’d think. We want to thank you both, Bill and Asfaloth, for carryin’ him so true. There’s no question as him wouldn’t be still with us if’n it hadn’t of been for the two of you. And if’n you’re Mr. Gandalf’s horse, he asked us t’tell you as him’ll be out when he can to see you. Right now he’s sittin’ by my Master, I do believe. Here—would you like another apple?”

If a horse could be said to appear amused, Sam could have sworn that was true of the great grey, although it accepted its tribute with gentle dignity before moving away to eat the apple with some semblance of privacy. Bill and the other pony both accepted a good deal of rubbing of ears, and the older beast reached out to steal an apple out of Pippin’s hand just as the young Took was preparing to take a bite.

“Hey!” Pippin objected as the old pony triumphantly crunched its prize.

The three Hobbits drifted back to the house and found a sunny terrace where they could smoke in peace, quietly expressing their relief that the shard had finally been bested. Sam described the operation as briefly as he could, and the others listened avidly.

Merry shook his head. “I suppose that it’s best I wasn’t there to see,” he said, “as I’d probably have fainted dead away once Lord Elrond put that knife to Frodo’s shoulder.”

“Well, I did faint away,” Sam told him, “but not till it was all over.”

“At least Frodo wasn’t alone in there,” Pippin said, lying back on a bench in the sunshine. “It’s definitely getting cooler now. I think we’re seeing about the last of the sunny days that we’ll get. No question that fall is well under way.”

“Considerin’ how many Elves as was in there, I’d not say as Mr. Frodo was anywhere near alone,” Sam said.

“You know what I mean—he wasn’t the only Hobbit there. You’d help him not feel so alone with all those strange people around, even if he wasn’t properly awake.”

Sam had to agree, even if he didn’t say so aloud.

As he turned toward the building, he saw a new Elf, one dressed for riding, walking by, led by Lindir. He wondered who this golden haired Elf with the magnificent longbow on his shoulder might be and where he might have come from. When they went to the dining hall to get something to take with them back to Frodo’s room they found a group of Dwarves were already there, crystal mugs of ale in hand, plates on which lay bread rolls filled with sliced pork in front of them, and Sam was certain that he recognized the oldest one as one of those who’d stayed at Bag End during the Party. As they left with their platters of provender on a great tray, Sam noted that they were being watched by a well dressed younger Man who’d stopped in the midst of a discussion with an Elf on one side and a Dwarf on the other, his eyes large with surprise to see the three of them.

It would appear that the Last Homely House west of the mountains and east of the Sea was rapidly filling up with a wide selection of all of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth, and Sam found himself wondering what this gathering of guests to Lord Elrond’s home portended.

Sam took the tray of food they’d amassed and headed for the room allotted to Frodo, for Merry and Pippin wished to leave their pipes in the quarters the two were sharing that they not be tempted to light them up in the sickroom. He had been given a room of his own right next door to Frodo’s, not that he’d even bothered to examine it as yet, while the two cousins slept further down the hallway. Strider stood holding Frodo’s right wrist to count his pulse, and appeared pleased, while Gandalf sat on the far side of the room, watching all with interest.

After putting the tray on the table near the chair where Bilbo sat, Sam settled himself as he’d done so often on the bed beside Frodo’s pillow, holding his Master’s left hand. “It’s cold, but not like ice,” he observed softly, gently running his fingertips over the cool skin.

Gandalf nodded, giving a slight smile as he examined Frodo’s face. “Life is returning to it, but it may take time before it is as it was before,” he said thoughtfully. “There is color returning to his cheeks, and the green tinge has receded. And,” he added, “he’s swallowing normally now, and attempting to roll independently.”

Sam looked questioningly at the Wizard’s face. “That’s all to the good, ain’t it?” he asked.

“Certainly.”

“Will he wake up today?”

Strider answered, shaking his head, “I doubt it. Indeed, Master Elrond told me that he would most likely not awaken until sometime tomorrow morning. For the moment he still lies deep in a healing sleep, but he should transition to a more normal slumber during the night.”

“Will he need more of them boluses?”

“No,” the Ranger responded. “Now that he is able to swallow properly we will resume the frequent drinks of draughts and broths.”

Gandalf added, “He even was able to relieve himself properly not long ago.”

Sam felt a good deal of relief.

Merry and Pippin arrived, Pippin with a handful of late chrysanthemums and sprays of red and gold leaves in a crystal holder. “Meliangiloreth helped me find a vase for these,” he said, setting them on the table near the hearth. “They should make the room cheerful.”

They were heartening to see, Sam had to admit.

Once Strider coaxed Frodo to drink a cup of tea and was assured that Frodo was resting peacefully, he left, telling the Hobbits that he would return in time. The four Hobbits ate and talked quietly, Gandalf listening but saying little. Somehow it was enough to merely be there, knowing that the great danger was past, and that Frodo was merely sleeping now, and that they could all hear him breathing regularly. After a pause in their talk Pippin began to sing a lullaby that most Hobbit mothers sang to their children, and the others joined in.

There was no question—Frodo was definitely smiling in his sleep, and Sam felt his heart lighten at the sight.



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