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The Time of Probing
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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14
XIV

XIV


Lord Elrond came in and examined Frodo fully, and announced that Frodo’s heart and lungs were now functioning normally and that his strength was returning to him. “From what I can tell, he ought to make nearly a full recovery, although it is likely he will continue to know pain in his shoulder for some time, and particularly when the weather is beginning to change or when it is very cold, or when he is under deep stress. Deep wounds involving the muscles can take years to recover, if they ever do. There is now some color to his left arm, and it is warming, if slowly. It will take perhaps another day or two before it returns to normal, and he will need to exercise the arm and hand before he will be able to use them fully. We will probably give him a sling to wear for a few days, at least for those times when the shoulder causes him noticeable pain. I must say again that I am impressed with how quickly he recovers. Were he a Man, or even an Elf, it would be highly unlikely that he would have recovered anywhere as well as he has. Hobbits are indeed most amazing creatures, as Mithrandir has repeated so often to me.”

“He’s a Baggins,” Bilbo stated, as if that were all the explanation required. “He’s a most persistent and proper Baggins, and fully aware of his responsibilities.”

Elrond gave the old Hobbit an indulgent smile. “I will remind you now to return to your own bed to sleep tonight. He will recover the better once he wakens if he finds that you are well and strong and not fretting over him.”

Merry asked, “Will he remember what’s happened to him—the boluses and the weakness and all?”

The Peredhel shook his head. “It is unlikely to happen. Although he may remember some of what was said around him while he was unconscious. We have always been amazed at what the person who has been in a coma or prolonged sleep may have heard and understood while we were certain he was unaware. What is distressing is what was heard that was not fully understood or only heard in part, for sometimes that has led to misunderstandings that can be difficult for the patient.”

Pippin looked down on his cousin. “At least he is recovering and returning to us. It couldn’t have been expected, I understand, anywhere but here.”

“Not within Middle Earth, at least,” agreed Elrond. “I rejoice that he was so strong that you were able to arrive in time. Now I must go, for there are others who need my care now within the valley or approaching it. But for now….”

Elrond leaned over Frodo once more, resting his hand against the side of the Hobbit’s throat, noting the strength of the pulse. At last he straightened. “I am yet amazed at how quickly he is returning to health,” he said with a gentle smile. “If all who came through these halls were Hobbits, how far more pleasant it could be, I think.” He gave a slight bow of respect toward the sleeping form of Frodo Baggins, and withdrew.

Strider looked briefly at Gandalf. “I must go, for one of those from the Breelands has come with word for me. You will send for me if he shows any signs of distress or of waking? I do not believe he will waken before tomorrow, but stranger things have happened.”

“I promise, Aragorn. Go and see to your news, and get some rest. He will do well, now that he feels all is put aright in his world once more.”

Shortly before the dinner gong was due to sound those who had sung over Frodo before gathered one more time. The first song they sang was the invocation for healing with which the Hobbits were already so well familiar, and the second, sung again by the woman who appeared to be a scribe of some sort, appeared to be a hymn of thanksgiving. The smith leaned over Frodo and laid his hand over the chain, and gave a nod of satisfaction. “The chain appears to be containing the influence of the Ring well,” he commented to Gandalf, who shared his appreciation for the effectiveness of his work.

The Lady Arwen came to sit with Frodo while the others went off to eat, and Gandalf accompanied them as far as the dining hall. “Eat heartily, my friends, for I must speak with Elrond and those newly come from Lindon.” So saying, he grasped his staff and headed down a passageway that Sam suspected led to the living quarters for the Master of Rivendell and his family.

Not even Pippin wished to linger over his supper that evening, and soon the four Hobbits returned to sit by Frodo’s side, all desiring to be there when he finally awoke. They were largely quiet now, all watching the sleeping Hobbit closely, each hoping to be the first to notice when Frodo’s eyes might begin to flutter. Not long after midnight they began to falter. Bilbo dozed in his chair with his feet upon the footstool. Pippin at last sprawled across the foot of Frodo’s bed, sleeping in spite of himself. Merry now sat in Sam’s accustomed place beside Frodo’s pillow, holding Frodo’s hand between his own, although his head lolled to the side and it appeared he was snoring softly. Sam sat upright on his pallet, his arms wrapped about his knees, doing his best to stay awake. Lady Arwen sat in the far chair with her embroidery, and from time to time she would look over the collection of drowsing Hobbits and would give Sam a fond and reassuring smile.

“I assure you, Master Samwise,” she murmured, “that all is well with him, and that he is unlikely to rouse until some hours after dawn.”

Still Sam persisted in the vigil, although he roused several times to find he, too, had begun to drowse with his head against his upraised knees.

The last time this happened, the Lady was folding up her embroidery and stowing it within her sewing bag, then snapping shut the container from which she took her beads and adding it to the bag as well. She rose and set her hand on Frodo’s brow, leaning carefully across Merry that she not rouse him unnecessarily. “He is in a true sleep now,” she said softly, “and his current dream is one that comforts him.” She straightened, and examined Frodo’s face thoughtfully. “He is remarkably fair,” she commented. “If I did not know better I might take him for one of our own children. Not,” she added, “that I have seen such a child for many lifetimes of mortals. We of the Eldar rarely choose to conceive children when times are uncertain.”

“Have you any children, my lady?” Sam asked.

She gave a soft laugh and shook her head. “I have not married. Only one has ever managed to stir my heart, but a doom has been laid upon him not to take any wife until peace is established within Middle Earth. And who knows when that day might come? Although,” she added, her face growing more distant, “the time approaches when, if it is to be, that goal might—just might—be met.” She turned her head to meet Sam’s gaze. “Shall we strive together toward that goal, think you, Master Samwise?”

He felt flustered and breathless, and ducked his head self-consciously. He gazed at the draped window. “Wonder what time it is?” he said aloud.

“Perhaps an hour before dawn,” she answered him. “I wonder you are as awake as you are, considering that none save Master Frodo here is lying comfortably.”

Sam’s stomach rumbled, and he shrugged as he rose from the pallet. “We’d all do with some food, and perhaps a good cup of tea to set the mind a-workin’ straight,” he said. “I think as I’ll go to the kitchens and see if’n I can find those for us.”

After straightening his clothing as best he might, he gave her a bow and left, going first to the room of refreshment and then off to fetch back first breakfast for himself and his companions.

As he was returning, the doorway to the room on the near side of that assigned to himself opened, and Strider emerged, although he paused, halfway out, to speak to someone within. “He appears to be recovering fairly well, but he has been under the Shadow for some time. Encourage him to rest, Faradir, and send word to Elianen that he will return home perhaps within a week’s time.” With that, the Man emerged into the hallway, closing the door softly after him.

“Someone you know in there?” Sam asked.

Strider examined the laden tray, his eyes widening at the amount of food upon it. “You do not intend to stint yourself, then?” he responded, although the smile of amusement took away any hint of criticism.

“The others’ll be wakin’ up in a minute or two.” Sam gave a meaningful glance again at the door.

The Man shrugged. “Some of my own men arrived last night from the patrol they were conducting around the borders of the Shire. They could not come as quickly as we did, even, for they, too, brought away with them one who had received a Morgul wound similar to that inflicted upon Frodo, and another two who suffered from the Black Breath. One of those two is the only one of the three who survived to arrive here, and he was weak and fading before they reached the valley. They stayed two weeks in a safe house we hold in Bree. Had I known that they were there I could have perhaps succored them there that night we stayed at the Prancing Pony. But I cannot know all, I fear! I am alarmed, for our ability to communicate with one another is anything but good, it appears. I am needed on so many fronts at once, yet I am but one Man!”

“Is him goin’ to recover?”

The Ranger nodded. “They arrived in time. He had begun to recover, it appeared, but on the day when we reached the Ford his mind began to wander, and he began to suffer from bouts of memories of the Black Riders attacking them as they sought to enter the Shire. He began to rave, and it was all they could do to soothe him and to coax him to come further. Three days ago he failed to rouse when they went to break their camp, and they have had to stop frequently to warm him. He did not accept any food for over a day and a half, and he almost strangled when they tried to get him to drink.”

Remembering how Frodo had been the evening before the shard was removed, Sam shivered. “More of your folk are lost, then,” he observed.

“Yes.” There was a world of grief in that one small word. “Our numbers had begun to increase at long last, but now again they wane once more. How we are to reestablish our people I cannot say at this point. The final doom, for good or ill, approaches. Come—let us see how Frodo is doing.”

When they entered the room Merry sat on the chair the Lady had vacated, scrubbing at his eyes with the backs of his hands, while Arwen sat in his stead beside the pillow, coaxing a drowsing Frodo to drink from an invalid’s cup, Frodo still quite obviously not awake. Bilbo was watching him avidly, while Pippin, obviously still drowsy and bemused himself, sat upright at the foot of the bed stretching, one arm over his head and the other scratching at the opposite shoulder under his braces strap, yawning hugely.

Strider looked around the room, shaking his head in dismay. “A sorry looking lot the four of you make,” he said. “It is obvious that not one of you has had a decent night’s sleep. What is Frodo going to think when he comes properly awake and sees you all exhausted?”

“What indeed?” asked Elrond from the doorway as he paused on entering, surveying them all with a severe expression. “You were told that he will most likely not properly awaken until later this morning, yet you stayed by him all night as if he might do so at any moment?”

Merry flushed. “You can’t blame us for it, can you, my lord? He’s been ill for so very long, you know.”

Elrond entered, followed by Gandalf, who carried a large earthenware mug between his hands. “And you will do him no good by becoming ill yourselves! I see that Master Samwise has brought you all a decent looking first breakfast. Eat it, and that goes for you, also, Aragorn, and then see to it that you all repair to your own rooms to sleep. And that that goes for you as well, Master Samwise. You do have a room of your own that has been prepared for your use all during your stay—go to it. He is in no more danger, and will only worry if he awakens to find you still sitting by him as if he might need nursing at any moment. Let him find you rested and confident, and he will find himself feeling rested and confident as well.” He looked into Arwen’s lovely face, and his own face softened. “He has drunk the draught, sell nín?”

“Yes, Ada, and I doubt that he will need more. I do not believe that I have seen anyone recover so rapidly from such a surgery.”

She gently resettled Frodo’s head upon his pillow, and stood up, allowing her father to take her place. He felt the Hobbit’s forehead, and then checked the pulse and heartbeat, allowing his hand to remain rested on Frodo’s breast to feel the steady rise and fall of it as the Baggins breathed. He smiled, apparently fully satisfied with Frodo’s condition. “He does very well indeed. He won’t sleep much longer, but it will be yet a few hours.” He straightened and managed to look both kindly and stern at the same time. “You have heard my orders for the rest of you. Mithrandir has agreed to stay by Master Frodo until he wakens—the rest of you are to eat and then to repair to your own quarters. Do you understand?”

Reluctantly, the four Hobbits agreed, and with a final nod to confirm he expected his orders to be followed exactly, Elrond accompanied his daughter out of the room, his arm about her shoulders with a display of affection that Sam watched with pleased surprise.

Strider looked about at his companions and gave a wry smile. “You have heard him, gentlemen,” he said. “Sam, did you bring any of the bacon? And is there enough tea for me to join you?”

While they ate, two maidens arrived to see the room cleaned, and they left carrying away Sam’s pallet and blankets. After they’d finished eating, Strider beckoned Sam, Merry, and Pippin out into the hallway, indicating that Pippin should bring out the tray on which Sam had brought their meal.

“Before you ask, I will say yes, I agree with Master Elrond that he will most likely awaken today, and perhaps within a couple of hours. But none of us will do him any good hanging over his bed until his eyes open. All of you require rest, as does Bilbo as well. The old fellow has barely left his side since we arrived, you know. Sam, I rely on you to get Bilbo to his rooms and make certain he lies down. He’s weaving just sitting there in a chair! And then, once he is asleep, you are to return to the chamber given you and do the same. Now,” he said, allowing the others no time to argue, “that is what you are to do. Go, get something to set out for yourselves to eat when you waken, and get some rest yourselves. Gandalf can watch over him.”

“And what about you?” demanded Sam.

Aragorn gave a tired laugh. “Do you think I have not received similar orders? A wise individual knows when to accept orders when they are for the best for everyone. Now, off with you!”

Merry and Pippin conferred briefly, then set off for the dining hall to return the tray and their used dishes and perhaps bring back some fruit or a roll or two for later, while Strider directed Sam to reenter the room to fetch Bilbo out. All paused briefly to examine the Elf who was approaching them, the newcomer that Sam had seen twice the day before with Lindir. Sam thought he somehow looked considerably younger than most of those Elves he’d seen so far, with a smooth face and regal bearing. He looked over his shoulder briefly as Strider gave him a push inside, and saw that the Man was already turning to speak with the Elf, giving a respectful bow of the head that the Elf was returning in kind.

“And what is it, Samwise Gamgee?” Gandalf asked as he helped Bilbo to his feet.

“One of them Elves as come yesterday’s in the hallway, speakin’ with old Strider,” Sam explained. “I didn’t know as some Elves can seem so much younger than others.”

“Not all Elves are the same age, after all, Sam. What did you expect?”

Sam shrugged. “I’m to see Mr. Bilbo here to his rooms and into his own bed afore I go to my own,” he said.

Bilbo’s mouth closed in a straight line. “I am hardly a faunt to need someone to serve as my nursemaid, Samwise Gamgee!” he objected.

The Wizard laughed. “No one thinks anything of the kind, my very old friend. But if I know you, you would merely linger in the Hall of Fire until you were certain no one was watching any more, and then slip back, being thrice as exhausted once Frodo here awakens than you are now! Besides, you deserve some coddling yourself, Bilbo. Let Sam feel that he’s doing good for someone, and he will rest the better himself. He looks as if he didn’t sleep even as much as you did last night!”

Bilbo was inclined to argue for a time longer, but it was obvious that his sleep in the chair had not been restful for him, and at last, still rebellious, he allowed Sam to shepherd him out the door. “You heard Master Elrond and Mr. Gandalf and Strider here, Mr. Bilbo—we’re all to rest that we not be too anxious when Mr. Frodo wakes up again. Now, I’m charged to see you to your own rooms afore I go off to mine. Tell you what—you can give me a cup o’ tea, see?”

Bilbo growled, “But I feel so guilty, knowing that if I’d not left that for him to deal with he’d not have been so wounded! Oh, all right, Samwise Gamgee. Although I never thought I would see the day I was taking orders from the gardener!” He nodded up at Aragorn. “And if I’m to rest, you’d best do so as well, lad. You’ve been as attentive as the rest of us, and with less sleep!”

He caught sight of the Elf at that moment, and stopped, his attention arrested. “My word,” he whispered. “You’re here! All the way from Mirkwood! And do you still like honeycakes, my Prince? If so, I will see to it some are sent to your rooms with my compliments, as I remember I took one or two from your plate on occasion. Welcome, welcome to Rivendell, and I so hope to see more of you before you must away again!” With that he suffered Sam to lead him away, his face alight. “And that,” he confided, “is one of the Princes of Mirkwood, Sam my lad! Who would expect to see him here in Master Elrond’s house?”

“I’m not certain as why you’re surprised, Mr. Bilbo, sir,” Sam answered. “Seems as a good number of folk is come here the last few days. There’s Elves, Men, and Dwarves here from all over Middle Earth, it seems like. Now, which way is your rooms? Doesn’t seem to be near here.”

“Oh, my rooms are down that way,” Bilbo said, indicating the direction to take. “I’m not too far from the rooms given to the Dúnadan, really, although not precisely along the same hallway.”

It took some time to see the old fellow settled into his bed, and they both forgot about the tea in the end. By the time Sam found his way back to Frodo’s room again he was exhausted, but he still slipped into Frodo’s room and eased himself into his usual place by Frodo’s pillow, and took his left hand into his own once more. “It’s still cool, but it’s definitely warmer,” he murmured softly.

“Indeed,” Gandalf said. “And why are you not in your own bed? There will be a feast tonight, followed by music in the Hall of Fire. You do not wish to be too sleepy to attend.”

Sam merely shook his head. “I just want to sit by him, and make certain as him’s all right. It’s good to see some color in his lips, especially as pale as he was yesterday morning.”

The Wizard shook his head, but said no more, and the two of them sat quietly, awaiting the waking of Frodo Baggins. Sam’s head would grow heavy from time to time until he jerked himself awake once more, and each time Gandalf would sigh but hold his tongue.

Meliangiloreth paused as she entered Frodo’s room. “I regret to say, small Master, that I have been directed to see to it that you sleep this time in your own quarters. Here—let me show you. You will find your room quite comfortable, and you will sleep the better for knowing peace about you.”

Gandalf gave him a reassuring smile. “Go and rest, Sam. You have done so well by him, and you may be certain that I will tell him so. Go with Meliangiloreth, and be at peace, even as he is.”

The room prepared for him was much like Frodo’s, and seemed uncomfortably large for Sam all by himself. The headboard of the bed was carved, much as was Frodo’s; but the lady whose countenance was depicted upon it was quite different. She carried a basket filled with flowers and fruits and walked amongst trees, and there was a border of vines, leaves, and nuts all about the edges of it. He felt that she was familiar somehow, and he noted with approval that her feet, although bare of a Hobbit’s curls, were still unshod, blessing the grass across which she walked under the overarching boughs.

On the clothes press lay the outfit he’d worn between Bree and here, all clean and repaired, smelling of sweet air with a faint, comforting hint of woodsmoke. His cloak, also refreshed, hung over the back of a low chair near the fireplace, and his pack rested on a settle. He felt an unexpected lightening to his heart, realizing that all his things were here, and safe. A new set of brushes lay on the low washstand alongside the basin and ewer, in which the water was warm; and a stepstool stood by the bed to give him easier access to it. He gave the hair on his head and feet a quick brush, used one of the thick face flannels to wash his face and neck, and pulled off his clothing, setting the garments neatly on the bench at the foot of the bed. One of the nightshirts he’d worn since his arrival lay over one end of the bench, and he drew it on. It smelled faintly of violets, and he smiled—how like home that was! At last he climbed up onto that great bed and laid himself down, pulled the bedding over him, and settled back against the pillows. A modest fire burned upon the hearth, not too hot, and just bright enough to be cheerful. He watched it burning for a time, and failed to notice how swiftly a deep, comfortable sleep gathered him into its arms.

In his dreams he and Frodo strolled through the marketplace in Hobbiton, laughing together, until he saw his Rosie coming toward him, a basket of sweet breads from the baker on her arm, her eyes fixed on him, and her smile warm as sunlight. And how pleased his Master appeared to be, knowing how happy they were, he and Rosie Cotton.



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