Written for the LOTR Community Potluck Challenge, 2016. For Gail for her upcoming birthday, and for Shirebound, whose prompt sparked this tale.
Aragorn stood up from where he’d bent over Frodo’s bed, rubbing at his aching back. “Well,” he said in low tones, “that is done. We have some more fluid in his body, and he is clean and warmly covered once more. I am so grateful that the farmer who brought these bedsteads was moved to do so, and that Faramir has managed to send out so many blankets, linens, and coverlets for those who were sore wounded. All rest the better for them.”
Gandalf, who sat on the other side of the bed containing Sam Gamgee, nodded up at the Man. “And the sheepskins, too—they have proved invaluable for dealing with those who must be bed-bound for any period of time.” He stretched, then rose and stretched again. “I will be glad when the healer comes to relieve me. This Eldamir is a good Man and a more than competent healer. Both Frodo and Sam seem to sleep peacefully when he is with them, unlike some of the others we have in the company.”
Aragorn nodded. “Indeed.” He looked down thoughtfully at the two sleeping Hobbits before glancing up at the branches of trees to be seen overhanging the enclosure erected about the two beds. “At least this is a healthful place for them to rest. Húrin chose well when he suggested we come here to Cormallen for the army to recover before returning to the White City. It is close enough we can keep a watch on the ruins of the Black Gates, but far enough for the air to be wholesome and the spring to welcome those who lie in healing sleep back to awareness when the time comes. And I trust that the sound of the small river running nearby will prove soothing and reminiscent of other, more pleasant climes for these two, at least.”
The Wizard made his way around the bed to Aragorn’s side, now looking down at Frodo’s face. Aragorn had positioned him on one side, a bolster behind him to support his back and with pillows supporting his upper leg and arm. “His sleep looks more natural, at least,” he said quietly. “He appears as comfortable as is possible, considering all that has happened to him. He should waken to relatively little pain, I would think.”
For a moment Aragorn stood silently looking down at the too-slender Hobbit lying in the big bed. “It can never be for him as it was before,” he breathed. “His shoulder will always ache to one degree or another, and I fear he will have a most difficult time regaining his ability to stomach his food. Certainly he will no longer be able to eat in accordance with what is believed to be proper Hobbit appetite. As to the return of his proper Hobbit spirits----” He looked up to catch the Wizard’s eyes and sighed. “The Ring was already eating away at his capacity for joy before you fell in Moria. After we left Lórien he was increasingly quiet and uncommunicative, rarely laughing any more. As to how he will be after he awakens—and, yes, I do now believe he will awaken—well, I suspect you can foresee, perhaps all too well, how he will be then far better than I, a mere mortal, can know.”
Now it was the Wizard’s turn to go quiet for a time. At last he murmured, “Frodo Baggins will find his great capacity for responsibility to be both his salvation and his bane. It will help him find purpose once again, but it will also tax his compassion and his patience—and his stamina.
“The four of them will not find things within the Shire as they were when they left their little land. Frodo does not yet appreciate this, but it was only his presence in Bag End that kept his loathsome kinsman Lotho in check. Since he has gone Lotho has done all he can to put the whole of the Shire under his thumb, and it will fall to these four to set things right once more. But we must not speak of this again in the presence of any of them, awake or asleep. He does not hear us now, for in his dreams he again fights a spider; but I would rather he be able to look toward the future with hope and patience. He will not be in any condition to face down the evil Lotho has unleashed for some time after he awakens.”
They turned toward the break in the curtain wall about the area in which the Cormacolindor slept to listen to the quiet words now being exchanged between the soldier on guard and the expected healer who would now sit by the two Hobbits as they lay deep in healing sleep. “Eldamir has come,” Aragorn sighed.
The flap was now being pulled aside by the guardsman, and the healer entered. Aragorn stepped forward to report what had been done for the two who rested in the place and to hear what Eldamir had to say about the condition of the other Pherian who slept amongst the wounded. “His good leg he moved, seeking to shift himself as he slept,” Eldamir told the King with a smile of triumph. “And he rubbed at his chest at one point.”
The flap again was pulled aside, and Legolas followed the healer. “I will share the watch with Eldamir here,” he said. “Gimli sits by Pippin’s bed; I may as well make myself similarly useful. You would think that the Dwarf was the young Hobbit’s father, the way he hovers over the lad! I will gladly sit here under the starlight once Arien finally sets, and sing for these. It seems to ease Frodo when he hears me sing.”
Both Aragorn and Gandalf smiled. “Indeed it does,” agreed the Man. “Thank you, Legolas. Both Frodo and Sam respond well to your songs.” With mutual bows, the Man who would be King and his friend the Wizard quitted the place, giving its sleeping inhabitants one last thoughtful glance as they did so.
“I have sent for Merry,” Aragorn confided as they walked toward his tent. “Pippin especially should do better with him here, although I hope his presence will also strengthen Frodo. Pippin I suspect will be the least changed when he awakens. After all, he is young and resilient—and every inch a Took. My adar always spoke well of the Old Took.”
“As well he might,” agreed Gandalf. “Dear Gerontius would be very proud of these five Hobbits you have come to know and love so well, his grandson Bilbo, his great grandson Frodo, his great, great grandsons Merry and Pippin, and their friend Samwise Gamgee. Of them all Pippin is most like the Old Took, I suppose naturally enough, both of them Fallohide through and through. But it is Frodo who has inherited the greatest share of his great grandfather’s innate wisdom and foresight, tempered with strictly Harfoot love of his land and people and Stoor sheer practicality. But,” he added, “I believe you are correct that Pippin will be the least changed—outwardly, that is. He will continue merry and impetuous, and it will take time for his own to appreciate just how wise he has become—indeed, how wise he has always been. For him the old saying will be true--a good thing is all the sweeter when won with pain.”
The Man by his side went stiff. “Sweeter? What we have won is sweet? Oh, I do not deny I rejoice that Sauron was defeated, but I do not find the victory in any way sweet! Nor, I wager, will Frodo Baggins! Too much has this victory cost us for it to be sweet, Gandalf Greyhame, my Lord Mithrandir! It has cost so many of my forebears, slain in ambushes, through treachery, and through the Enemy’s myriad plagues. It cost me my father when I was little better than a babe in arms, and my mother untimely when she could well have lived to see this victory. It cost Gondor the sanity of its Ruling Steward as well as the leadership of his older son. And how many good folk have died in the last year alone in all lands fighting Sauron and his creatures and mercenaries? Halbarad, who was all but my brother, lies in a grave before the gates of Minas Tirith when he should be singing in the sunshine of Eriador right now, while Hirluin, whom I first named the Fair when he was but a winning child, will not return to the southern fiefdoms to the joy of his wife and children.”
If Gandalf was surprised by Aragorn’s sudden loss of equanimity and uncustomary outburst of anger he did not show it. “Calm yourself, my friend,” he said. “Remember—you are son jointly of Arathorn, Gilraen, and Elrond Peredhel. No, there can be gladness in the victory we have won, but I agree it is bittersweet at best. I did not say that the old saying was true for all, only for young Peregrin and a few others who are like unto him in personality. And you are most correct that it will not be in any way true for Frodo.”
The Wizard stopped as they reached Aragorn’s tent and sank into one of the folding chairs set before it. “I find that I am tired, son of Arathorn. Did any of your kinsmen bring with him some pipeweed they would be willing to share with a weary old Man?”
Aragorn suddenly burst into unexpected laughter, his usual hopeful attitude restored. “I will ask Halladan. I do not doubt he will know who has some to spare for the two of us. I, too, would appreciate a good smoke at the moment, I find. And do not give me that talk of being merely a weary old Man. We both know better than that.”
At that moment they heard, in the distance, Legolas raise his voice in song, one of the songs in praise of Ulmo and the peace those who crossed his realm might know. As he listened to the hymn, Aragorn felt a twist in his own heart. Turning to the nearest guardsman, he asked that Halladan be summoned. He found he would indeed like to relax with a pipe hopefully full of Old Toby.