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Turnabout  by Ariel



(You may find an illustration for this fic at

Rating: PG

Warnings: Completely gratuitous h/c.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

Characters: Frodo, Merry, Sam, Legolas, Gimli, Pippin, Aragorn, Gandalf 

Written for Marigold's Challenge #12 and also for Anso the Hobbit's 10 things wishlist.

This story is also dedicated in memoriam to Nivina (Ethereal_Hobbit), harem sister and friend, taken tragically from us on February 6th, 2005.

Author's note: After slavering over everyone else's H/C for the past 3 years, I figured it was high time I gave some back.  This is not a deep fic, nor has it any 'message' at all, it is just H/C for H/C's sake.  It's what my last fic, Fear, was initially intended to be, though that, of course, mutated itself.  This is for entertainment value only and I hope you will not think too poorly of me for writing it.  I just wanted to do something simple for a change.

Chapter 1 -

"Merry?  Open your eyes, please…"

The voice seemed to come from great distance through some strange echoing cavern.  It was Frodo's, Merry realized, but oddly strained and with a cough inherent in its tone.  That roused him.  He was concerned for his cousin, but at that moment, he couldn't remember why.

"Can't…" he slurred.  There was grit in his mouth and parts of his body were reporting in disagreeably.  He was lying on his back, but something was holding his leg, pinching it painfully.  His one arm felt to be over his head and was being held by someone and the other was cramped around a large mass of stone. 

His mind was clearing though.

"Can you move?" asked Frodo, seeming nearer now. 

Merry tried experimentally flexing the fingertips above his head.  His movement was answered by a quick, heartfelt squeeze.  His cousin held his hand.  That was encouraging at least.


"The ceiling fell in."  Frodo's voice was quiet and firm but Merry could now hear the fear he hid in it.  "We were coming down to see the work Gimli was doing on the lower circle.  I'm tucked into a fireplace; I am afraid it is the only part of this house that held up."


Frodo was feeling down his cousin's arm.  "I believe something fell off one of the towers above us."  He coughed.  "Gimli's but one dwarf and the Gondorians' builders are stretched thin.  They've not been able to secure some parts of the city.  Apparently, this was one of them."

Merry opened his eyes but could see little but dark greys and blurs of shadow. 

"I can't see," he whispered. 

Frodo's hand found Merry's head and stroked his brow gently, then made a subtle exploration of his skull, pausing once on a swelling above his ear, but touching him so tenderly that if Merry didn't know his cousin, he might not have been aware he was being checked for injuries.

"The dust…" Frodo explained.  "It was so thick earlier that I couldn't see anything.  I've only just found your hand."  Frodo's voice rose slightly and Merry again rallied.  His staid companion sounded horribly worried and now Merry's thoughts were becoming clear enough to remember why.  Their guide had taken a wrong turning - much of the lower city was in unrecognizable ruin - and they had wandered into a part that had not been declared safe.  Gimli and the few Gondorian builders not killed on the battle fields had been working night and day to inspect the war-ravaged rubble, but many deserted neighborhoods had not been attended to yet, their inhabitants remaining in the villages and holdings they had fled to before the battle until the reconstruction could begin in earnest. 

The last clear memory that Merry had was of a clank and rumble followed by a roaring, as Frodo shouted frantically at Sam to stay back and the two of them ducked into a battered but sturdy looking stone house.  Beyond that his mind was a blur of confusion and pain. 

"Merry, I must know how you fare," Frodo said.  "I need to move you.  That stone above us is held up by this chimney only.  If it goes, that rock will crush you."

Merry raised his eyebrows.  "Well, don't sugar-coat it, good fellow," he croaked.  "Give me the bad news now."

Merry was beginning to be able to see, at least enough to perceive the grimness in his cousin's dust-covered face lift fleetingly. 

"It's fair to say your wits are returning, at least," Frodo replied.  "How about your legs?"

"Caught.  At least the left one.  Though I might be able to wiggle it…"

"NO!" Frodo hissed.  "Is it your leg that’s caught, or is it your clothing?"

Merry gingerly tested the limb.  "Bit of both, I think, though I believe I could get the leg out if I cut the trousers."

"I'll do it," Frodo ordered, letting go of his arm and leaning across Merry's body to find his leg.  It was not caught and, after a quick examination to assure himself it was not broken either, Frodo took up his knife and cut his cousin free. 

Once loose, Merry began inching away from the boulder.  The stone had cut painfully into his calf and the sticky, pulling feeling informed him that he had been bleeding as well.  What a delightful development.  Frodo crept back into his makeshift shelter and began to drag Merry in after him.

The rocks above gave out a sickening groan and Merry's heart froze.  Frodo screamed his name and pulled desperately on his clothes, trying to pull all of him into a space barely big enough for the one who already occupied it.

All at once the rocks shifted and crashed down on the space outside the chimney.  The spot where Merry had lain mere moments before, disappeared in the avalanche as a wall of grey stone sealed the hearth opening.  Bricks and stone fell heavily onto his back and he cried out.  The chimney flue was collapsing too!  Frodo rolled his cousin under him and grunted as he took the brunt of the next shower of bricks.  Thick, choking dust filled the tiny fireplace and the already faint light from above flickered and was blocked.  The roar of falling stone slowly fell quiet. 

Merry hadn't lost consciousness this time and had felt every bone-bruising stone that hit.  Frodo also seemed overcome and draped over his younger cousin, coughing and wheezing as if he could not get enough air into his lungs.  If you could call it air.  It was mainly stone dust; even Merry could barely breathe.  For his convalescing elder cousin, the task seemed more than he could manage.

"Easy, Frodo, I'm all right," lied Merry.  "Relax and take slow, deep breaths."

From beyond their cramped little chamber, Merry could hear a new sound rising.  It was a scream, muffled by rock and distance.  A horrified cry of loss, tormented and hopeless, and it was coming from a hobbit.  

"Sam!" Merry gasped.  Then, as loudly as his dust-choked lungs could manage, he called out.  "We're here!  Sam!"  Frodo nodded, encouraging his cousin, yet unable to yet do anything but cough.  "Sam!  Oy!  Sam!  Hush up and listen for pity's sake!"

"Hello!" came the gardener's faint frantic call.  It was closer, but many feet of stone lay between them.  "Please, sir, call again!  We'll find you!"

"We're here, Sam!" Merry called again, fighting the coughing fit that was trying to claim him.  "We've a small shelter in the chimney, but we can't get out - the hearth is blocked!"

"Mr. Merry, Sir!  Is my master with you?  Is he…"

"Here, Sam," Frodo croaked. 

Merry could almost hear the other hobbit's sigh of relief.

"Captain Belegorn is off to find Gimli and some of the guard folk.  He says to stay put, if you can, and not to move about much.  This here rock looks to be settled, but neither of us knows enough about stonework to be sure."  There was the sound of scrabbling on the rocks near the chimney shaft and a few more pebbles fell down the flue.  "You two sit tight and we'll get you out of there."

Frodo seemed at last to be catching his breath.  "Sam, I don't want you on the stone.  Get off the rubble and stay a safe distance."

"But Mr. Frodo!"

"Do it!" ordered Frodo, as fiercely as he was able.  "The site's not stable - even your weight could bring it down!  Get away now and stay away, I command it!"

A moment's heartbroken pause was followed by a 'Yes, sir,' and the sounds of someone climbing carefully over the rocks. 

Frodo breathed a sigh.  "And keep yourself out of danger too, you dear fool," he added softly, though only Merry could hear him.

The parts of Merry that had earlier reported in as being worse for wear were beginning to stiffen.  His back, bruised by the falling masonry, was hot and stiff and his leg had not stopped bleeding, he could tell that by the continued warm slickness on his lower leg.  He also wished there had been a bit more room in the fireplace.  He was starting to feel decidedly claustrophobic.  He tried to stretch out his legs but the stone had sealed all but a tiny space outside the hearth.  He felt a wave of panic wash over him and barely suppressed the urge to kick out.

Sam and the guardsman had been behind Frodo and Merry on the street -- it had looked as if the tower was going to fall right between them.  Apparently it had.  When they'd dashed into this stone and wood-framed house, Frodo had pointed to the cold fireplace as a possible shelter and he'd been right, as it was seemingly the one structure that had withstood the falling tower. 

"Well, this is a right cozy little nest you've found, Mr. Baggins," Merry said, lightly.  "A bit on the snug side, but I suppose beggars can't be choosers."

He felt more than heard Frodo's wry chuckle.

"You see why I relied on your skills to locate me housing in Buckland," he answered hoarsely.  "I'm hopeless at it, as you see."

"Wise of you," Merry agreed.  "What about this place, though?  You said the chimney's blocked?  How badly?  Can we shift it?  There's a bit of daylight coming through; can you tell how much brick is blocking the way?"

Frodo moved and Merry heard him gasp in pain.

“How do I fare?  What about you?" he asked.

"I'm all right, Merry.  Just took a bit of bruising from those bricks, that's all.  I'd say I was in a better state than you."

"Well, perhaps.  All the same, I think it might be wise of both of us to get out of here as soon as possible."

Frodo moved carefully, sitting back and putting his hands up to guide himself along the firebrick.  Soot drifted down onto Merry's face, but he at least had room now to stretch out his arms. 

"Ai!"  Frodo ducked back as a shower of pebbles rained into the firebox.  "It's more than we want coming down on us," he gasped.  Merry nodded and Frodo tried shifting into a position that was not directly under the flue.  It was no use.  There simply wasn't any room for the two of them to sit comfortably in the cramped space.  In the end, Frodo sat his cousin up against the far wall with his legs blissfully outstretched and placed himself on the pile of bricks that had already fallen.

"I thought you said there might be more showers expected?" Merry chided.

"I'm in better condition to handle a rain of bricks right now than you are."

Merry sighed, suddenly too tired to argue.  Sitting up was terribly uncomfortable for his back and made his head spin so that he felt sick.  He rolled to his side and tried to make himself comfortable in the tiny space.  Without Frodo lying beside him, he was beginning to feel cold.  He shivered. 

The next thing he was aware of was his cousin's hand on his leg, gently wiping blood and caked dirt away from the still bleeding cut.  He opened an eye to see Frodo beginning to search through his pockets.

"You'd have thought," he said softly, "that I'd have learned by now to carry a handkerchief with me."

Merry said nothing.  The dampness on his leg was making it chilly too, and the stones at his back seemed to be pulling the heat from his body.  He folded his arms over his chest and tried to conserve what warmth he had left.  There was a tearing sound and he saw Frodo ripping a long strip from the lining of his coat.  He chuckled.

"You might want that later.  It's getting bloody cold in here."

Frodo frowned.  "No, it isn't," he said.  "It's quite comfortable, at least in temperature, but I think you've lost more blood than you realize.  This is a very bad cut."  Merry’s cousin worked carefully, his face set and grim as he bound the torn leg.  "That's going to need to be stitched but the bandage should help some."  He looked up at Merry who was gazing at him dully.  "Anything else wrong that I should know about?" 

"Other than the fact that I am as bruised and battered as you are, no, not particularly."

Frodo sighed and shifted again, coming around to lie beside Merry and pulling him into his arms. 

"I'll keep you as warm as I can, Merry.  Lie quiet and try and rest."  His fingers touched the bruised bump on Merry's head and the shivering hobbit winced.  Frodo murmured an apology and eased his cousin's head against his chest.  "Shall I sing you a tune to pass the time?" 

Merry nodded and settled against Frodo's coat.  He felt like he was a tot again, being held by his elder cousin as they sat listening to stories by the fire in the great hall.  Those had always been the best of times, and were perhaps what Merry had missed most about having Frodo move to Hobbiton.  Frodo's soft voice, a little hoarse from the punishing dust, rose above the beating of his heart and Merry relaxed, beginning to feel the sense of cold lessen in his limbs as he became almost drowsy with comfort. 

The song wound on, low and gentle, and Merry slipped deeper into doze.  His leg didn't hurt as much and the warmth from his bruised back seemed to be spreading down his limbs.  He sighed, almost smiling.  It was nice to be held like this.  He knew their predicament was dire but somehow it didn't seem to matter as much anymore.  The pain was receding and, in the protective circle of his elder cousin's arms, the danger seemed lessened too.  Merry felt safe.  Frodo had always been the strong one, never sick, always confident, responsible and competent.  Those qualities were what Merry had always admired and tried to emulate, though he would never have told Frodo that. 

Neither would he have told him what it had felt like to watch a dear cousin fighting for his life.  Twice now he had been seized by a terror deeper and more profound than he would have let on to anyone.  For some strange reason, it had never seemed possible to him that Frodo could die on this quest.  Not before Rivendell, at least.  And even afterward, as they'd set out on their perilous journey, Merry had thought their Company too strong and powerful to let his kin come to grief.  But he had learned the folly of that thinking.  His despair had been more than half the reason he had ridden against his Lord Theoden's wishes; he could not bear to remain behind, safe, tormented with the knowledge that his loved ones were fighting, perhaps dying, in some uncharted land far from home.  Better to fight and die himself than to endure that uncertainty. 

But the nightmare was over.  His cousin was warm and alive against his cheek and his heart and voice sounded gloriously in Merry's ear.  The younger hobbit settled deeper into the embrace and put aside his all his worries.  There was naught else to be done until help arrived anyway.  Darkness beckoned and, with Frodo's voice and warmth around him, Merry followed it.



Chapter 2 -

While Samwise Gamgee could see the sense in Mr. Frodo's command, he wasn't about to twiddle his thumbs while his master and Mr. Merry were in peril.  The square where the tower had fallen was still deserted, but the sounds of hammers and stonemasonry that they had been following had ceased, and shouts were coming from the direction whence the man, Belegond, had dashed off.  Sam scanned the deserted homes encircling the square.  Even if he couldn't move stone, there were other things he could do.

Several of the buildings looked as if they had been abandoned long before the evacuation order had come, but a large, white-stoned mansion with carven pillars seemed in better condition than its neighbors.  Sam made for it, and was momentarily stymied when the door proved to be locked.  Grumbling about the strange ways of those in foreign parts, he took up a boulder and smashed his way through.  There were things his master and Mr. Merry would need; surely the owners of this house would understand and forgive him his destructive entry.

Blankets were the first order of business.  Sam found them after scaling the broad, stone stairs that rose through the center of the house.  Spare water- skins and bandages were in a kitchen that opened onto a walled garden.  He drew water to fill the skins from the fountain that bubbled merrily at its heart.

"Now, if I could find a bit o’ rope!" he mused, hefting his burdens and pondering where in the unfamiliar dwelling such a utilitarian item might be found.  A hobbit hole would have a shed or barn that housed the tools and gardening implements, rope and satchels and other odds and ends, but this elegant dwelling didn't seem to have a place for such crude necessities.  His eye caught sight of a set of tall drapes and, more importantly, the thick, silken drapery cord that peeked out beside it.  He nodded.  That would serve most handily.  He dropped his burdens and began dismantling the drapery. 



When Sam returned to the square, Belegond had arrived with Gimli and a small host of dust-covered, aproned men.  They were fanning out around the remains of the crumpled tower and calling to each other as they examined the pile of stone.  All that was left standing of the house in which his master and Mr. Merry were trapped was the back wall and chimney shaft.  Sam shuddered in fear but pushed his concerns aside.  Help was there and he knew that his friends could have no better or more concerned rescuer than Gimli, Gloin's son. 

"Where were they, Master Samwise?" the dwarf called, urgently waving him closer.

"In that there chimney, sir.  I've called to them and they've both answered me, but they're trapped, seemingly.  Mr. Frodo told me even my weight on those rocks was fit to make the pile shift, but unless you've called for Mr. Legolas to come help, I'm the lightest one here.  You'd be better off putting me up there than one o’ these men."

The dwarf raised a finger and smiled grimly.  "Ah, not so hasty, master hobbit.  This is the sort of work my folk can really get their teeth into.  I've got a tool that will enable us to reach right over those rocks without disturbing them.  If those lads can be reached, we'll save them."

Into the square rumbled a team of four horses pulling what looked to Sam's eye like a great wooden tree.  It had a large upright stem, bound with steel and capped with a dome of metal and a vertical pin.  Laid across its top and seated on the pin was another reinforced beam.  From one end of the crosswise beam hung a wooden box and from the other, a hook.  Sam stepped back instinctively when the contraption drew nearer.  It was enormous and looked none-too-savoury despite the reassuringly confident nod Gimli gave him.

"It'll do the trick, Master Gamgee.  Don't you worry.  I've sent a fellow up to let Aragorn know what's happened and to send healers on in case they're needed.  I'll not fail either of my companions, I swear to you."

"Master Gimli!" came a shout from the direction of the crane's arm.  It had been positioned over the chimney and a young Gondorian builder was seated on the very end, looking down into the opening.  Gimli waved, indicating he had heard, and came to the edge of the rubble.  It appeared the news was less than good.

"There's stone blocking the way, sir," the man said.  "Brick and mortar, too, and some bit of metal that seems to be holding the lot up.  Worse is that the flue is too narrow for us to reach down into to clear it by hand!  Any tool we try and put into that hole will jar the lot loose onto the Pheriannath inside!"  He shook his head.  "We've got to try coming at them from the side, my lord, from the hearth opening.  It's too dangerous from above."

Gimli’s brows bristled as he scowled.  "Do it, then," he grumbled and pulled off his leather jerkin and the shirt of mail that lay beneath it.  "We have no time to lose and a job ahead of us."  He turned to Sam, who was unbuttoning his own waistcoat in preparation to help.  "Aye, lad, now we'll need your lightness and strength.  I'm sure that heap’ll hold you and probably a few other lads as well; so up you go and start handing down rock.  Carefully now!"

Sam needed no further urging.  He scrambled up and over the mound to the buried chimney.

"Hold tight, Mr. Frodo!  Mr. Gimli is here and he's brought a great crew of men with him.  He'll have you out in no time, sir.  Never you fear."

"As quick as you can, Sam," came the muffled voice of his master in return.  "Merry's got a torn leg and a fair bump on his head.  I'd rather see him tended sooner than later, if it's all the same."

Sam's throat tightened in fear and he hefted a first chunk of stone into the waiting hands of the Gondorian brigade behind him.  The young soldier who had been their guide was first in line and passed the stone to the men behind him.  Sam gave him a brief, decisive nod before turning back to the imprisoning heap and bending to the task.  "Right.  We'll get you out if we have to move this whole mound!" 



"Merry-lad, can you hear me?"

Frodo could feel his cousin's chilly skin against his forearm and it frightened him.  Merry had grown very still and the pulse that Frodo could feel through his fingertips was developing a fainter, more rapid rhythm.  He was still bleeding, despite the bandage.  Even without a healer’s training, Frodo knew that his cousin was in dire trouble.

"Hurry, Sam…" he whispered as he tucked Merry's head protectively under his chin. 

He had worked so hard to protect those he loved.  First, on his way out of the Shire, then at Amon Hen, he had tried to leave them all behind.  But he had not managed it, either time.  Neither the one who went with him into torment, nor those he left by the river had escaped their trials unscathed.  But those sacrifices he could almost accept - they had been for a reason: to help achieve a victory that none would ever have thought possible.  This accident had no purpose.  A mistaken turn, a chance fall of rock; there was no greater meaning in any of this, though the peril was no less for that. 

And more painful yet was the fact that, this time Frodo had to stand by, helpless, and watch his little cousin succumb.  Merry's responses had become more and more sluggish till, at last, Frodo could scarcely rouse him at all.  He hugged him closer, his heart pounding in terror and frustration.  This must have been how it had felt for his kin to watch him fighting for his life in Rivendell.  They had not yet truly understood the nature of the quest, though neither had he at that time, and his brush with death must have seemed nearly as purposeless.  He had appreciated their compassion and concern at the time, but it had never struck him how much they must have suffered.  If it were within his power, he would never make them endure such again.

His eyes itched from the grit and so he closed them as he waited.  He was too agitated to rest and his mind filled with sights and sounds that flitted past his consciousness too rapidly to register.  Some were images of his past and some, pictures of events he had only heard told.  Though he could not discern at first if it were a memory or a vision new come to him, Frodo suddenly saw Merry clearly in his mind's eye: a grown hobbit with a sun-browned face and wisdom in his blue eyes, but many years older than the hobbit Frodo now held.  He was standing in a field of corn*, a crop that would have waved over the heads of most hobbits, though it came only to Merry's chin.  The stalks, swaying under a summer sun, were just turning bright gold and a smile of easy contentment was on Merry’s face.  He was happy. 

But as Frodo held to the image, that contentment was touched with sadness.  Merry looked up; his eyes glistened though he did not weep.  It was as if his thought dwelt on the sweet memory of a time long past, or on a treasure that had long ago been lost to him. 

The sight filled Frodo with a strange and bittersweet joy, and though he did not understand where it had come from, he somehow knew the vision was a true one.  Merry would not die in this trap of stone.  His cousin would someday stand in that field and would look up, his thought touched with regret and love.  Frodo had seen it.  He firmed his resolve and lifted his head.

"Sam!" he called.  "We can't wait any longer!  Merry's condition is growing worse.  It will take hours for you to clear that rock and he needs to get out of here now.  We need to try the flue."

"Sir!" came Sam's muffled voice.  Frodo could hear the clatter of stones as his friend approached him across the rubble.  "That chimney's still blocked.  If we start trying to clear it, we just might drop the lot onto the both of you!"

"Then drop it!" shouted Frodo sternly.  "We have no time!  I'll take a few more bruises if it means Merry's life."

There was silence for a moment, but only a moment.  Sam's voice shouted for Gimli and moved off as the dwarf answered him.  Frodo shifted himself to more of a sitting position, situating Merry's body under the sloping side of the firebox, as far as he could from being directly under the chase.  Much of Merry's sizable frame was still within range of the debris falling from the chimney and the only place remaining for Frodo to sit was directly under it, but there was nothing else to be done.

"We've got a plan, Mr. Frodo!" Sam called, this time from the chimney opening above them.  "There's gap enough left to get a rope and bit of wood down.  If’n you shore up the chimney with the boards, you ought to be able to widen that space enough to squeeze through.  Then tie the end of the rope to Mr. Merry and yourself and we'll pull you up."  Sam paused.  "That wood ought to prop those stones long enough.  I hope." he finished worriedly. 

"Good work, Sam," Frodo assured him.  "It'll do the trick and I promise I'll take care not to bring the roof down on us."

"I'd appreciate that, sir," said Sam.

Frodo smiled grimly and stood up into the chaseway.  There was a panel of mortar that had broken free from the walls and was jammed crossways in the channel.  The bricks and stone that made up the largest portion of the blockage rested on it, though a large hunk of granite was jammed above and across.  Frodo hoped that if anything gave way, it would be the mortar.  Bricks falling onto him would hurt, but that slab of granite would kill them both. 

"Frodo?"  Another voice called from above.  From the clear, musical tone, the hobbit could tell it was Legolas.  "I'm afraid this isn't hithlain, but I hope it will serve you well."  Slowly a tawny tassel appeared, dancing skillfully through the opening that remained in the blocked chimney.  Above it was attached a bundle of thin planks.  With a wry grin, Frodo reached up and slowly slid the wood through the narrow opening.

"My dear Legolas, do you always keep such elegant equipment on hand for emergencies?"

Frodo didn't need to see the smile to know how it had flitted across the Wood Elf's familiar face. 

"You will have to credit Master Samwise for the stylish rope, my friend.  I am merely the arm that wields it."

Frodo untied the planking and set to jamming the boards under the mortar panel.  A brick or two was jarred loose by his actions, but Frodo dodged them somehow and then began taking stones and brick carefully off of the blockage to increase the size of the opening. 

"Be careful, master!" cried Sam as a slide of bricks fell noisily to the hearth. 

Frodo spat out dust and blinked at the suddenly increased sunlight that trickled down into the space.

"I think we can get through that if we're careful," he said.  "I'm sending up Merry first.  He's bleeding badly, and hasn’t spoken in ever so long.  Is there a healer on hand?"

Legolas' voice, firmer and more serious now, answered him.  "Aragorn is here with physicians from the King's house.  He was distraught when he heard of the accident and would see no lesser healer tend you."

"Then the sooner we remove from this trap, the sooner he will be comforted."  Frodo bent to his cousin to work the rope under his arms.

Merry had not only gained height, but bulk as well.  He groaned faintly as Frodo struggled to turn him over, but remained unconscious.  Frodo had to maneuver him with his own strength alone.  At last, the older hobbit had the golden cord tied securely around Merry's chest. He leaned back against the opposite wall, exhausted.

"Frodo?" asked Legolas.

"Yes?  The rope is on Merry.  Give me a moment and I will guide him up."

"Gladly I will, friend," the Elf answered quietly.

Frodo was thankful of that moment and for the unobtrusive concern of the one who allowed it, but he could spare only the time it took to catch his breath.  At last at his signal, Legolas, with Sam helping, began to draw up on the rope.  The Wood Elf had run the line over the arm of the crane that still hovered over the chimney, and now guided the withdrawal with care and skill.  Between Frodo below and Legolas and Sam above, Merry was brought safely through the passage with only a minor disturbance of the blockage.

Once Merry had emerged into the sunlight, Sam was shocked to see through the dust and soot how pale his friend was.  Legolas cradled the tall hobbit against his chest as he undid the rope and his refined face became grim.  Merry lay limp and unresponding.

"His skin is cold, Samwise," said Legolas, "and his heart beats quick and faint.  I must get him to Aragorn quickly."  The Elf tossed the end of the drapery cord towards Sam and lifted the other hobbit in his arms.  Merry's head lolled limply, and Sam's heart lurched into his throat.  "Take care of your master!" ordered Legolas and dashed towards the square with his burden.

Sam nodded and began to feed the rope back down the chimney.  Tears burned his eyes and he dashed them away so that he could see the opening below.  Mr. Merry had answered him cheerfully not half an hour before.  How could he have got in such a bad way in that short time? 

"We… we have Mr. Merry all set, Mr. Frodo," Sam called, hoping his voice did not betray his concern.  "Strider'll have him to rights in no time, if I know him.  Now all that’s left is to get you up safe too.  If you’ll just tie that rope around you nice and tight we’ll pull you up."

Sam felt the rope taken and let down enough slack so that his master could fasten it securely.  He moved so that the sunlight shone down the chase and was rewarded with a glimpse of Frodo looking up into the light.

The sun caught his eyes and lit them like gems in the dust.  Sam had a sudden impression of a fragile butterfly caught in a cage of stone and his heart lurched almost as fearfully as it had done for Mr. Merry.  Though his dear master had come through trials the like of which would have killed the stoutest-hearted hobbit, there were still times when he seemed as delicate as a cup fashioned from fine porcelain; fragile and too fine for everyday.  He seemed to possess that quality that made you stop and stare at Elves, but in a hobbit it seemed somehow rarer; precious, in point of fact.  Not even dear Mr. Bilbo had seemed so otherworldly.

"Are you tied on, Mr. Frodo?"

"Yes, just.  Pull slowly, to begin," Frodo answered. 

Sam pulled the rope taut, but with it draped over the square arm of the crane, he could not get it to slip easily.  He needed a pulley, or another body to help him, and without one or the other it was clear he was not going to bring Frodo all the way to the top. 

"Just tie off your end of the rope and I'll hold here, Sam.  Wait for Legolas to return.  You're not yet strong enough to pull me up." 

"Beg pardon?" wheezed Sam, not understanding his master's meaning.

"We're both still weak, Sam.  From our ordeal.  I expect it will be months before either of us is in top form again.  Don't use yourself up."

Seeing nothing to tie onto, Sam drew the rope under him and sat down on it instead.  Unfortunately, he couldn't see Frodo from that vantage.  "Where are you, sir?" he asked.

"Just below that boulder.  It looks to be poised here by a hair's breadth.  I wonder it didn't fall earlier!  Merry and I were in much more danger than we realized."

"Beg pardon, Mr. Frodo, but I’d've been just as happy not knowing that."

"Ah…  Yes."  Frodo was silent for a moment.  "My apologies." 

Sam blushed but promptly grinned.  “No need, master, though I’ll take them happily enough after we’ve got you free.  And here's Mr. Legolas come back."

Sam had been about to ask after Merry when there was a sudden sickening sound from the chimney: a crack, the squeal of stone, followed by Frodo's shout of alarm.  Legolas leapt forward, as fast as only an Elf could move, grasping the rope just as a plume of dust rose up the chimney.  Sam flew to his feet and leaned over the edge, shouting Frodo's name.  There was no reply.  Legolas jumped onto the crane's arm and, with a mighty heave, pulled the remaining hobbit swiftly to the surface.  Frodo, dust-covered and motionless, emerged from the darkness and Sam cried out in shock and dismay to see the bright blood across his brow. 



* The term ‘corn’ here is used in the British vernacular, referring to a crop of wheat or barley.

Chapter 3 -

"Master!  No!" Sam cried and pulled Frodo's dangling body to the chimney's rim.  Legolas was down in a twinkling, helping Sam settle Frodo on more secure ground beside the chase.  He brushed elegant fingers over the bloody cut on the hobbit's brow and Sam was almost overcome with relief to see his master wince and groan. 

"Oh, glory!" he whispered, his throat tightening in a sob.  Legolas' smile glowed down on both of them. 

"Hobbits are quite amazing, and durable, as I have seen.  I think your master is more dazed than seriously hurt.  Do you see, Sam?  He is rousing now.  Help me lift him and I will guide you both out of danger.  Come." 

Sam almost opened his mouth to ask if he could carry Frodo, so great was his worry, but good sense checked him.  Legolas could move lightly over the top of a deep drift of snow; the Wood Elf was a far safer transport for his master over the rubble than Sam would have been.  He nodded and wiped his tears away.

"Very well," he said instead, and helped Frodo to a sitting position.

"Well," gasped the hobbit groggily, "that was an adventure."  He touched his forehead and winced again.  Looking at his fingers, he noted the blood on them and sighed, then began looking about in seeming confusion.  "It appears I am rescued," he said after a moment and looked up at Sam with a pained smile.  "Thank you."

"If you will allow me to bear you, Frodo," Legolas offered.  "This is an awkward place to walk even for those with no hurt.  Come.  We shall see to Merry and make certain you haven't any other complaint."

At Frodo's halting nod, the Elf lifted him and strode confidently down to the little square where the blankets Sam had gathered had been partnered with several that Aragorn's party had brought.  Sam followed, picking his way down more slowly.

Aragorn had laid Merry on a soft layer of blankets and had covered all but his leg and shoulders with another.  More were rolled up and had been placed under Merry's feet, raising them several inches off the ground.  The patient was still pale, especially in the noonday sunlight, and his lips had an ashen hue that drew Sam up sharply again.  Frodo seemed to come to himself when he saw his cousin, and he looked over anxiously as Legolas placed him on a nearby pallet.  Sam settled between the Bucklander and his master, feeling anxiety for both. 

Aragorn was expertly examining Merry while another man pressed a large cloth firmly against the injured leg.  Several other men that Sam had not seen earlier were standing ready by the unconscious hobbit's head, one with a large satchel and another with an earthenware jug and several clay pans of varying size.  Another man was kneeling opposite Aragorn and seemed to be listening intently to what he said.

"This bump is likely painful, but it has not broken the skin.  The bleeding from his leg is what has laid him low.  If we can staunch it, we can move him to the Houses of Healing, but not before.  Once he wakes I can determine if he has any other ills." 

Frodo was settled under a blanket of his own and, growing more alert every moment, craned his neck the better to see his cousin. 

"Strider?" he asked softly, and the King, his eyes fierce and focused, looked up.  To Sam, it appeared as if the wild ranger from Bree had returned once more, but a moment later the intense look softened and Aragorn smiled down at the concern in their faces. 

"You did very well getting him out so quickly, Frodo, Sam.  The cut was deep and ragged and bled badly, but we have nearly stopped it.  With rest and drink, if we can rouse him to take it, he should be none the worse for wear.  He was truly very lucky.  Now," Aragorn stood and motioned the man with the earthenware jug to attend him.  "What say you allow me to tend your hurts?"

Frodo winced, as if pained by the reminder of his injuries, but nodded. 

Legolas, conversing with Gimli, came to stand behind them as Aragorn knelt at Frodo's side.  The hobbit looked up at them and winced again as Aragorn probed the cut on his forehead, but didn't draw back. 

"I've not had chance to ask," said the King, "but could you two tell me what really happened?  The message I received was cryptic, but quite alarming.  I had no idea what I would find, though I greatly feared it would be dead hobbits under a fall of rock.  What ever were you doing down here?"  Aragorn reached towards the attendant with the satchel and the man gave him a jar and a pad of clean cloth.  The other attendant poured steaming water into a small basin and placed it within his King’s reach. 

"Begging your pardon, Sirs, but it wasn't Belegond's doing that got us lost this time," Sam offered quickly.  "We wanted to come and see the work Mr. Gimli was doing on the city and he took us the way he thought was safest, but that he found there'd been a fall in the night and we couldn't go no further that way."  He looked about for the young soldier who'd led them and been helping to remove the rubble, but he was nowhere to be seen.  "He'd have gone back, but we could hear Mr. Gimli calling to his builders and knew we were near to him.  We'd just found a way that was clear, seemingly, when, well that's when that tower started to fall!  I'd never seen such a sight in my life!  Mr. Merry heard it first, and him and Mr. Frodo were right under where it was like to hit.  I saw him give Mr. Frodo a shove the other way, towards the houses, and then I couldn't see no more." 

Sam paused and took note of the look of ease which seemed to have enveloped Frodo as he'd talked, despite Aragorn's ministrations.  It was the same look his master would wear while listening to him recounting some tale of the doings around Hobbiton, or the latest adventures of the garden cats.  Mr. Frodo always said Sam’s plain talk made him laugh.  Suddenly Sam felt very proud and glad he had so simple a way to bring a bit of comfort and peace to his master. 

Frodo took up the tale from there, telling of how they had chosen the fireplace as sanctuary and how Merry had seemed to hesitate before getting into it - a hesitation that nearly cost him all.  Then he recounted the exploration of the firebox, the discovery of Merry's wound and subsequent lethargy, and the state of the chimney flue.

"And after we'd got Mr. Merry out, my master gives out a shout and there’s a great crash of stone and, well, I thought we'd lost you then, sir!"

"You nearly did, but not quite," smiled Frodo as Aragorn bound his cut.  "These old bones are still quick enough it seems, to respond at need.  I was standing just below the big stone when I heard a creak and knew my time was up.  As it gave way, I pushed myself hard to the other side of the flue, right into the boards you'd sent down!  I must have dropped the other blockage down on top of me, for in the next instant I was out in the sunlight and you and Legolas were helping me to sit."

"And from there I think I can take up the tale," said Legolas.  "For Gimli has just made the observation that news travels swift among the ranks of soldiers.  Master Peregrin will have heard of your adventures and will be anxious if he hears the version of them that Aragorn and I did.  It would be best if I found him first to give a more accurate account."  The Elf bowed gracefully and took his leave.

"You are very lucky, Frodo!" murmured Aragorn.  "How do you feel, otherwise?"

"Bruised," the hobbit replied with a wry grin.  "I feel as if the Five Armies had trampled me, but nothing's broken and though no doubt I will be stiff and sore tomorrow, my chief worry now is for Merry." 

The King nodded and spared a glace for the Bucklander.  Seeing the look, his attendant eased the pressure on the bandage and watched it closely.  After a moment he nodded and smiled.  Aragorn acknowledged him and motioned that he should continue the pressure, then turned and smiled at Frodo. 

"I am encouraged," he said.  "The bleeding is nearly stopped and we should be able to move him very soon, but how about you?  Will you let me see what the Five Armies have done? 

"But what about Merry?" the hobbit persisted.  "I couldn't wake him, Aragorn.  And he was growing so cold."  Frodo had started on the buttons of his waistcoat and shirt, but now that the danger was past, his fingers were beginning to shake. 

"He lost a great deal of blood from that wound, Frodo," Aragorn explained as Sam helped Frodo with his garments.  "From your tale, there was little you could have done to prevent it, but your decisive action afterwards probably saved his life."  He nodded.  "He still may have some complaints from a sore head, but the bleeding was what laid him low so quickly.  It was my chief concern."  Aragorn quickly examined Frodo's back and shoulders.  They were greatly bruised, mottled red in places and starting to purple in others.  Frodo was also beginning to stiffen and could barely reach across his body to re-clothe himself.  Again Sam had to assist him. 

When Aragorn ordered bearers and a litter for Merry, he called for one for Frodo as well.

"I feel well enough to walk, Aragorn," said the hobbit.  "Please let me.  I'd rather not cause more talk among the people and, to tell the truth," he added with a grimace.  "I'd not enjoy lying on this back just now."

Aragorn raised an eyebrow at his friend, but chuckling, had to concede.  "You have a valid point, Frodo.  Perhaps we can compromise and have you ride?  I'll lead you on my own horse."

Frodo winced again.  "I suppose, if you won't let me walk, that would be acceptable.  I can bear it if I must." 

"Master!" Sam chided.  "Take the ride if you'll not manage a litter, at least!  You were out cold when we lifted you up out of that chimney not a half hour past!  You'll need rest and tending now, not an uphill walk!  It’ll cause me no end of worry if you don't!"

Frodo laid a hand on Sam's arm and leaned towards him conspiratorially.  "Ease your worries, Sam.  I will let myself be borne if I must be, though I fear even that gentle ride will be a trial."  He shifted with discomfort and gave his faithful companion a wry grin.  "What Aragorn failed to note, no doubt in an effort to spare my dignity, was that my backside is in much the same condition as my back!"



He couldn't seem to get himself awake.  There was movement, sudden sunlight and then an easy swaying motion that reminded him of a boat on the water.  He wondered if he had fallen asleep while fishing on the Brandywine.  It seemed he was being muffled under heavy cloths and he was so warm and comfortable that the minute he stopped struggling against it, sleep crept back to claim him.  But he couldn't allow himself to sleep!  He would float down the Brandywine and end up out of the Shire in some strange land far from home!  Panicking, he kicked his feet at the coverings and felt a sharp pain in one calf.  That halted him and brought forth a queer memory of stone flowing like water.  What had happened?

Other memories teased at him, offering glimpses of battles and perilous rides, pain and loss, and the fear of losing someone dear, and suddenly he understood that he was not in Buckland.  He was far from home in a strange land.  A great and perilous adventure was afoot and he was right in the thick of it. 

The sunlight was gone, but it was not dark.  He was inside some great house and the swaying movement had stopped.  Beneath his cheek was soft cloth and hands reached for him.  Gently, they began to remove his clothes, taking off his coat and unbuttoning his shirt.  He relaxed into the unexpected luxury, for the hands were soft, feminine and loving.  It wasn't until they began to remove his trousers that he started to feel uncomfortable.

"Easy there, love," he slurred.  "Not so eager.  Let me wake first…"

The sound of ladies' laughter mingling with the bellowing guffaw of at least one male voice brought him up short and this time he managed to raise an eyelid.  Though blurry, the scene around him was one he knew.  The white, vaulted ceiling, the large bright windows and the kerchiefed waiting women; he was in the Houses of Healing.  Again.  He closed the eyelid and groaned. 

"I doubt you are in condition to meet these ladies just yet, Master perian," said the male voice.  "Rest easy and we shall have you washed and dressed, your hurts mended and some drink in you in good time.  You have lost blood and must take as much broth and water as you can to replace it.  Please.  Let the ladies finish their task unhindered." 

Merry sighed and removed the hand that he had latched onto his breeches.  "Too good to be true anyway," he murmured as genial laughter accompanied him back into dreaming.



Pippin had not returned by the time Merry was washed and his injured leg treated.  His duty had been to attend, in the King's stead, the pardoned troops and injured of Harad making ready to depart for their homelands.  Even Legolas could not have ridden over the Pelennor and back in that time.  The herb master, who had, by now, set in a good store of the herb 'kingsfoil', prepared for the King a bath of its infusion, and Aragorn himself washed the two hobbits' bruises with it.  Frodo breathed in the steam and felt the ache and growing stiffness lessen.  The contusions had deepened to purple across both their backs, but the King's hands soothed and many of the lesser marks faded to yellow under his touch.

"I count myself fortunate to have such a friend," said Frodo to the King, "I dare say I can barely feel any pain now."

"I would do the same for any man in my care," Aragorn answered kindly, "but it is my pleasure and honour to aid those who have done so much for Middle-earth.  And as for pain, I would suggest you hold your praise till the morrow, for I doubt you will escape all the stiffness this will have caused.  But now, you must rest.  There will be a room made ready for you here and I will have one set near at hand for Sam, so that he may continue to tend you."  The King's eyes twinkled.  "I think you've frightened him again, Frodo.  The poor lad looks like a mother hen with a sole chick to be tended.  You must consider keeping yourself in better care for his sake, if not for your own."

Frodo pulled his shirt back on and looked up at Aragorn from under the white dressing on his forehead.  His eyes were thoughtful and a bit sad.

"Sam has worried entirely too much over me," he said with a serious tone.  "I would not have intentionally given him more reason to do so." 

"I understand," nodded Aragorn.  "You are free to come and go as you please, but the city is not safe yet and I would not have advised this outing had I known of it.  Belegond was correct when he urged you to return to your house."

"A good man," Frodo agreed sighing.  "I hope he was not punished for leading us there.  It was the folly of our curiosity.  We have such works of stone near the Shire, but no knowledge of how they were built.  Allow me to accept the blame for this incident and I will endeavour to cause neither you nor my dear Sam any more strife."  He sat up straight, though gingerly still.  "I will see Merry now and assure him before I take my leave.  The healers of this house can better care for him with one less underfoot, as Pippin will most assuredly wish to stay with his cousin.

"I would then like to return to my house.  Gandalf will be there should I need anything, as will Sam, and I would not rest so well here where I would feel myself a burden."  He gazed evenly at the King and the denial Aragorn seemed ready to voice died on his lips.  The man shook his head.

"You are your own master, Frodo, and I can see no need for care now save rest.  You are right when you say that one lies easiest in one's own bed.  I will trust you to your own care and to Sam's.  Gandalf, after seeing that you were both out of danger, went back to your house, but I can send word for him to have a meal and bed made ready against your return.  It is in my mind that he expected you would not stay here anyway."

"He knows me too well," said Frodo.  He pulled on his brushed waistcoat and buttoned it to the top.  "Though I think I will walk this time.  It is not far and any stiffness I am due will be lessened for the exercise."


Frodo stood and took his leave, pausing at the doorway of the treatment room to look back at his friend.  "I would not have you worry over me either," he said.

"I do not worry, unduly, Frodo," replied the King, gazing thoughtfully back at him.  "As liege, it is my part to take the concerns of all my people to heart.  You and yours are already so deeply established there I could not but care for yours as well."

Frodo considered the words and nodded, then, with a smile and only the slightest of winces, he bowed and went to find Sam.


Chapter 4 -

"Drink this up, Merry-lad," said a familiar voice.  Merry complied out of habit and let the sustaining arm lift his head to drink a cup of warm, salty broth.  It was delicious and Merry sought to drink deeply.  "Easy, old fellow!  You'll get it all over yourself!  Drink slowly."  The speaker laughed, and the relief and delight in his tone made the sound as sweet as music.  When Merry had drained the cup, he was laid gently back.  "They've got a few other dainties here to tempt you, cousin.  If you’ll wake for me, perhaps I'll leave you some?"

The words came as through a muffled blanket but they made Merry smile.  He was very weak and as tired as if he had been on a forced march, but he would wake himself for Pippin. 

"Blasted Took…" he muttered and dragged his eyes open to the sight of his beaming, cocky friend. 

"Nice to see you could join me this evening, Merry!  The meal is delicious, but much better for the company.  What can I get you?"

"Um… well," the Bucklander mumbled, feeling the first stirrings of both appetite and another need.  "Perhaps a healer first.  They've been feeding me a rather lot of drink you see…."

Pippin grinned but did not laugh and called for the attendants.

When Merry was resettled and as comfortable as he could be, under the circumstances, his cousin returned with a tray of food and set it on a large table he had brought close for the purpose.  The meal was still mostly liquid: soups, shrubs, water and beef tea, but there were also a pair of delicious looking beef liver sandwiches and a large bowl of apple and raisin compote.  Not heavy fare, but hearty and nourishing and, to Merry, most welcome.

"My, you'd think I hadn't eaten in weeks!" he said, trying to lean forward and finding himself almost too weak and stiff to reach the table.  Pippin judiciously pulled it closer to him.  "I am trembling like a newborn kitten.  And bruised!  Dear me!  I feel as if I have been beaten by orcs!"

"Small wonder, Merry," Pippin answered, his voice growing just a bit harder.  "From what I heard, it is lucky you are here at all!  What were you thinking?  The story as I heard it tells that you wouldn't get into the shelter Frodo found.  Who ever heard of a hobbit who wouldn't go into a hole?  Or a Brandybuck hesitating to go where a Baggins would?"

Merry, fully awake now, looked up at his cousin seriously.  "That's not quite the way it happened," he said.

Pippin helped himself to some tea and poured another cup for Merry.  "I thought not," he nodded.  "Care to enlighten me?"  He handed it over and steadied Merry's hand until he had a firm grip. 

Merry took a drink, set the cup between his hands and rested hands, cup and all on his belly thoughtfully. 

"He wouldn't move till I did," he said reluctantly.  "He kept telling me to go first, like I was a child in need of protection."  Merry looked down into his tea.  "Even inside the house, he insisted that I get into the chimney before him."  Merry shook his head.  "Pip - that space was so small - if I'd got in there, there'd have been no room for him.  He knew it, but urged me forward anyway."  Merry sighed and paused, but pressed on.  "He's always been that way - looking to our need before his own - but this time….  Perhaps it simply was habit, but it scared me, Pip.  I've been frightened for all of us at some point or other on this adventure, but in that moment I saw, clearly, something I think I first saw in Cormallen, but only recognized then for what it was."


"He's different, Pip.  Changed." 

"He'd have been hard pressed not to be, considering all he's been through.  But he seems the same old Frodo I always knew, or near enough.  I dare say we've probably changed a bit too, so maybe you're seeing him with new eyes as well?"

Merry frowned and fell silent.  Pippin cut one of the sandwiches and gave him a piece, helping himself to the other half.  Merry was too deep in thought to notice, but absently took a bite of his portion.

"No," he said decidedly after he'd chewed and swallowed a few more bites.  "It's Frodo, he's different now, only not in a way you can see, but only feel."  He looked up and his blue eyes were very earnest.  "It's as if he's drifting away.  It used to be I could walk with him over every hill in the Shire and he was still right there with me.  I could reach out and touch him if I wished, because all of him was right there.  Ever since Cormallen, I've felt like he isn’t."

Pippin finished his sandwich.  "I don't know, I've always thought our cousin had his head in the stars as often as not."  He grinned and licked his fingers.

"But what's happened now isn't the same as that," insisted Merry.  "Even when he was dreaming of faraway lands, he was still always here, always solid enough so that you knew he would always be somewhere in the world.  Even after he'd planned to leave the Shire, he was still himself inside.  Now…"  Merry dropped the sandwich unfinished on the bed and Pippin helped him put the teacup back on the table. 

"It's as if he's trying to give us the slip again, Pip.  I can't put my finger on it, but when I look at our cousin, I keep thinking 'he's gone beyond any of us', and I don't understand.  He's still our Frodo all right.  You can touch him, hold him, and yet something's lifted him up to someplace I can't reach."  The cheerful blue of Merry's eyes glimmered with exhaustion and the beginnings of tears.  "The only part of him that's left is like a memory of what was, and yet I am so terrified of losing even that little bit that I couldn't duck into the hearth before him."  He looked up again.  "I didn't know if he’d have followed me." 

Merry's voice was beginning to tremble too, so Pippin took the tray away, made him drink the medicinal draught the healers had left for his comfort and laid him back down, covering him warmly.

"You're speaking nonsense, old fellow," he said softly.  "Frodo wouldn't hurt us that way.  He'd not be so thoughtless - you must know that!  He's just been through a lot.  We're all a little older and wiser, but just maybe he's a bit older and wiser than the rest and so it seems he's leaving us behind?"  Weakness was making Merry's limbs tremble and the draught made him drowsy.  He struggled half-heartedly against both until Pippin kissed his forehead.  "Rest now," said the Took, his voice quavering with the worry he had yet kept hid for Merry's sake.  "Life won't seem nearly as hopeless after you've got your strength back.  I promise."

Whether the words comforted him or he was simply too tired to resist, Merry relented; his body relaxed, he sighed softly and slept.  Pippin stayed by him till nightfall and, in the darkened room, all that could be seen was his face, seeming at once young and old, lit red by the intermittent glow of his pipe.



"I can't sit here another minute."

Frodo struggled to his feet, his supper barely eaten, and pushed the chair away.

"Frodo?" inquired Gandalf, his voice gentle.  Sam made to get up to assist his master, but the wizard checked him.

Frodo sighed, feeling a little embarrassed at his outburst.  "Even after the athelas bath, I can not get comfortable.  I'm sorry, Sam, Gandalf.  This chair is like torment.  Every place it touches me is bruised.  Please, don't let me disturb your meal."  He looked up apologetically.  "I'll get something, but am afraid I cannot join you at table."

Gandalf's black, depthless eyes studied him, as if seeking for some deeper meaning in the hobbit's words, but Frodo returned the gaze without flinching.  In a moment of dark reflection, he had confessed a secret to the wizard and since that time Gandalf had been watchful.  Frodo had thought his worries foolish, but had not wanted his kin and friends to know that he now felt as if he was different and imagined the Ring had worked some evil change upon him.  He had hoped the wizard would dismiss his concerns out of hand and put his heart at ease, but instead Gandalf had looked at him very sadly and explained how, sometimes, those whose lives had been touched by great and terrible events, took that evil into themselves and believed their lives tainted by it. 

His grave and gentle manner had disturbed Frodo more than any words of warning could have, and it had been Frodo who had scoffed and firmly dismissed the notion.  The Ring was destroyed and a bright future and life lay ahead of him.  It was not in his nature, nor in the nature of any hobbit, to dwell on darkness.  But though Gandalf had smiled, nodded and agreed, he still remained oddly attentive, as if Frodo's fanciful admission had been the first sign of something the wizard had looked for with foreboding.

This night, however, the cause of Frodo's distress was nothing more than what he'd said it was and he returned the wizard's probing gaze with a frank and open one of his own.  Sam looked from one to the other of them in confusion, as if sensing there was more to the mood between them than met his simple eye, and shook his head.

"Well," the gardener said, breaking the strange tableau, "that's no trouble, master!  There's a set of fine, padded chairs in the sitting room.  If you like, I can sit you down there by the fire to finish your supper.  Old Mr. Bilbo might not approve, but I'll not say anything to him just so long as you don't get gravy on the cushions."

Frodo blinked.  Sam's warm and familiar humour took him aback after the wizard's piercing scrutiny.  Like the grip of a well-known hand, it comforted him and he laughed out loud.  Gandalf, too, seemed to let go his concern and broke into a jolly and carefree smile.

"Oh, my Samwise!  Trust a hobbit to keep his wits in the face of dragons.  You are quite right.  To the sitting room then.  We shall all have a merry supper and talk by the fireside."  The wizard rose and took a round loaf under his arm and his and Frodo's plates in hand.  Sam, blushing at the praise, followed with his own plate and their mugs of ale. 

The seats in the firelit and comfortable room were sized for Men, but with the aid of a footstool, even a stiff and aging halfling could climb into one.  Frodo settled himself into the chair nearest the fire, sitting back tentatively at first, but then sighing happily as he found its soft contours did give him respite.  Gandalf laid his plate in his lap and Sam tendered his cup, and Frodo was able to finish his meal in comfort.  When, at last, he pushed both away, Sam got him a throw and laid it over him, and handed him his pipe and pouch, though Frodo put them down after a half-hearted attempt to fill the bowl.

"I've not had a taste for pipe-weed lately," he sighed when the gardener returned from taking their dishes away.  From the other padded chair opposite him, Gandalf blew a smoke ring and raised an eyebrow. 

"I will put mine out if you wish," Gandalf offered, but Frodo shook his head. 

"No," he smiled.  "I like the smell, even if I've no desire to smoke myself."  The image of a much beloved face, more lined with age than he liked to remember it, came back to him.  "It reminds me of Bilbo," he said softly, his tone sad, but touched with heartfelt tenderness.

Gandalf looked at him in silence for a long moment.  As he watched, a strange glimmer, like that of sudden understanding, lit his dark eyes and a thoughtful smile grew on his face.  At last he spoke.

"Each time I think I have learned all there is to know about your kind, you surprise me anew."  He blew a writhing trail of smoke that curled around his head like a cone.  "Bilbo never spoke of how much he missed you while in Rivendell, though I would guess you knew him well enough to know that he did."  He pointed at the hobbits with the stem of his pipe.  "He said something to me once that I have only just been reminded of and I think it will comfort you to hear it too."  He paused, as if collecting his thoughts.  "I rarely stayed at the Homely House during the years that Bilbo resided there," he began, "but on one morning that I was there, he came to me with a glowing smile and buoyant step and bowed very graciously before me.  I was curious and asked what had inspired such an honourable greeting from an old friend, and he looked at me, puzzled, as if surprised that I didn't know. 

"He then revealed to me that he had had a dream that night.  One in which he had seen you, sitting, in a chair much too big for you, by a roaring fire, in a great, dark house of Men.  He said that in his dream, you smiled so fondly that he was filled with joy and that you spoke with such tenderness that it brought tears to his eyes even as he slept."  Gandalf paused meaningfully and added, "I believe the sight he saw of you was in some way the one I have just beheld in this room and the words he heard were the ones you have just now spoken." 

The wizard smiled at the surprised look on Frodo's face and the puzzled one on Sam's and pressed on.  

"He was convinced I had done some wizardly trick to bring him a vision and would not be persuaded otherwise.  I let him believe what he wished, for I could see no evil in the vision and it gave him comfort, though now, as I sit here and his words come back to me, I begin to think the dear old hobbit saw true.  He saw you as you sit here now."

Frodo leaned forward, interested, and pondered the wizard's words.  Sam, who had climbed up on the couch to relax in gastronomic contentment, rolled over to watch, curiosity rousing him from his after-supper stupor.

"My folk aren't given to such gifts, though, of Bilbo, many would have believed it."  The older hobbit laughed.  "Very curious!  I believe you might be right, Gandalf.  In the house of Elrond, where the powers of the Half-elven run deep, perhaps my uncle did see what was to become of me?"

"You mean like Elven magic, Mr. Frodo!" Sam gasped, sitting upright.  "That was like the Lady's mirror - you remember!  I saw…"  He blushed red and stammered.  "Well, I spied something in her ladyship's mirror that...” he seemed to struggle with the memory, “well, sir, that I saw again later!"

"Yes, Sam," Frodo laughed.  "Very like that, and not only for you and Bilbo.  I've seen things too."  He looked at Gandalf.  "Do you remember what I told you at the Council?  In a dream in the house of Tom Bombadil, I saw you pacing back and forth upon a tower of stone?  And there have been other things as well.  Why just today I saw…"  And there Frodo stopped, his eyes flicking up to Sam's open and curious face.  He hesitated, looking uncomfortable.

"What did you see?" asked the wizard gently.  "Come, there can be no harm in telling us."

Frodo shook his head.  "As Bilbo's seeing was empowered by the magic of Elrond's house, so I had come to believe my visions were a token of the Ring and would cease when it was destroyed.  I was," he paused, "…startled to see what I saw this afternoon."  He fell silent and his eyes flicked towards Sam again.  Though the vision had been a sweet one, he had not wanted his companion to know of it.  It might have made Sam think, as it did him, that he was somehow still burdened by the Ring's evil.  And that would worry him.  Frodo had given Sam more than enough worries already.

The watchfulness came to Gandalf's eyes again.  "I do not believe such visions are a legacy of the Ring," he assured him, clearly understanding Frodo's reluctance.  "It can empower nothing now.  Whatever you may have seen today, unless it is a product of your fancy, came to you through your own gifts.  Though you say hobbits are not known for such, I would not so readily credit the airs of Rivendell, or the agency of the Ring for what you and yours have seen.  Even in those with little magic about them, such as hobbits, love can draw the mind across any distance, even time and even death.  You see those who love you, Frodo, when their thoughts are upon you.  As did Bilbo.  Were you not just thinking of him?"

Frodo studied the wizard and, after a moment, nodded.  Then turning his eyes to the fire, "I was," he said thoughtfully, and fell silent. 

Frodo had changed in more ways than he had confessed, though, since what he had already said had caused Gandalf to view him with such watchful unease, he was reluctant to tell the rest.  He had thought it by agency of the Ring, but it now seemed to Frodo as if he had stepped back from the world to view it from a greater distance.  Patterns of light and darkness were laid out before him and suddenly he knew the truth of what Gandalf had said.  This change was one his trial had wrought on him but it was not evil.  He had simply grown. 

"My old gaffer," said Sam, sitting up and breaking the solemn quiet, "he is a gruff old fellow, but he has wisdom of a sort you'd never find in no books.  Mr. Bilbo saw that, I reckon, for he was ever so kind and respectful to him, even when some others weren't."  He turned to Gandalf.  "He told me once that if I should ever miss my mum, then I was just to think of her and she would see me, no matter that she was dead and gone.  I remember how he used to say that nobody was really alive unless somebody knew their name, and so nobody could really be dead until not one body left behind remembered them."  Sam looked down.  "I was right young when I lost her, Mr. Gandalf, and that thought was always a comfort to me."  He took out his kerchief and wiped his nose.

The old wizard bowed his head respectfully.  "You are right, Samwise.  Your gaffer is very wise, and if it would comfort you further, I believe that he spoke true.  Love is a force to be reckoned with.  It has reached across the boundary of life and death before.  It called Beren back from the halls of Mandos, if you recall the legend.  It seems a little thing to expect it to reach across the gap of Time as well, at least in this small way." 

The words hung in the air of the darkened room.  Frodo could sense the truth of them too.  Neither was the connection love had created a thing of evil.  It bound him to his kin and those of the Fellowship, even to the one of that Company who now lay in the shadow of death.  It was blinding in its power and Frodo wondered that he had never before realized how much strength he drew from it.  Without looking up from the fire, he spoke very carefully.

"You asked me what I saw today," he said, sounding weary but composed.  "While I held Merry, I saw him as if he stood in a field of ripening corn.  He was older, his face lined and tanned by the sun, but he looked very contented."  Frodo smiled and settled deeper into the chair.  "I believe it was as you say, Gandalf, that I saw him as he would be someday, not as he is now.  I took hope from the vision.  It was as if I had proof he would live and so I knew my fight to free him would not fail."

He fell silent once more.  Gandalf nodded, approving and pulled a new draught on his pipe.  Sam eased himself back again, his arm under his head, and studied the ceiling as if deep in thought. 

Frodo kept the thought of Merry's sad, reminiscent smile to himself, though.  Even before Sam and Gandalf confirmed it, he had had an inkling of what that part of his vision meant.  He had known Merry all his life and could read his familiar face as easily as if it were a book laid open before him.  Merry had been thinking of him while standing in that golden field and his remembrance had been touched with loss.  Irretrievable loss.  The kind you would only feel for one who was gone beyond any hope of meeting again.  The kind you felt for those who were dearly loved but who had long since died. 

If he had seen true, by the time Merry was a middle-aged hobbit, Frodo would be but a cherished memory.  He had perhaps a score more of years, at best. 

It was a strange thing to have surety of the time of one's own end and he would have none who loved him know of it.  Though, as he rolled the oddly unhobbity notion over in his mind, it did not dishearten him.  Seventy years.  It was hardly venerable, but his own father had been such an age at the time of his death.  Three score and ten.  Frodo had not expected even to survive his journey, let alone return to live out his days peacefully in the Shire.  It would be enough time for a good life.  He could do much with it. 

With the fire hissing comfortingly in the hearth, two he held dear within arm's reach, and feeling warm and sated from good food and drink, Frodo closed his eyes and he slept.




Turnabout - Chapter 5 –

When Sam looked up, he saw Gandalf looking at his master with a fathomless expression.

“He’s fallen asleep,” the wizard said, quietly, so as not to disturb him.  Sam nodded, unsurprised.

“Shall I carry him to his rooms?” the other asked, and this time Sam shook his head.

“If he’s dropped off, best to let him be.  He’s right black and blue and I’d be willing to bet if you moved him, he’d be waking.  No.  Let be, if you please, Mr. Gandalf.  I’ll tend him.” 

The wizard smiled and the fierce, black eyes softened in a jolly crease of wrinkles.

“In such providence, succor.”

“Beg your pardon, sir?”

Gandalf laughed and stood, shaking out his white robes as he looked down at Frodo fondly.  “You have taken fine care of your master, Samwise.  That is all I meant.  You have come a very long way from the nosy fool I caught beneath a window.”

Sam blushed and his ears grew hot but he could think of nothing to say.  Gandalf gathered up his staff and stood before him smiling with the same fondness he had displayed towards the sleeping Frodo, if perhaps, a bit more humour.  “I leave him in your care then, Samwise, for more capable hands I could not imagine.  I have a last duty to attend in this great labour of mine.  Do not look for me on the morrow.  I will return when my task is done and when I can truly rest at last.”*  He bowed slightly and Sam found that acknowledgment even more embarrassing.  “I take my leave, good sir,” he said and turned away.  Then he strode into the great hall, pushed open the front doors and disappeared into the night.

Sam threw some more logs on the fire and light leapt into the room.  It was a cosy place, for a room in a house of men, but too big for him to feel truly comfortable, or even for the great fireplace to warm it properly.  Sam wondered what Gondorians did to keep their dwellings snug in winter and then, with a start, realized that, as far south as they were, it might never get cold enough here to truly need such amenities.  He suddenly missed the chill of winter winds in the Shire as much as he did the snug warmth of his own little smial.

Frodo lay back in the chair, his head propped against the backrest.  His feet dangled uncovered several feet above the floor and his hands rested in his lap, one loosely cupped around the bowl of his half-filled pipe.  Sam took the pipe and drew the throw over his master’s feet, and then, because he didn’t feel sleepy and didn’t wish to leave his master untended, sat before the hearth to let the fire warm his back.  He looked up thoughtfully at Frodo’s face.

Even in sleep and in the forgivingly warm light of fire, he could still see the marks of age in it.  He had never really noted them before Ithilien, though his master was several years his senior, but now it struck him that the fine lines and sculpting weren't only due to the trial of their journey.  Frodo was growing old. 

He had never felt it his place to consider his master with such familiarity, but along their journey, he had learned to see Frodo with new eyes.  If he idealized him less, then he loved him more.  And he now began to wonder what would become of him once they did reach home.  Sam had had an idea of what he would do when they returned, but what did the future hold for his master? 

He’d always assumed (or maybe hoped) Mr. Frodo would settle down at Crickhollow and find a good lady to marry, but now, seeing the hollows still evident in his cheeks and the flickering of mithril-coloured strands among his dark locks, he wondered.  The quest had taken its toll on both of them, but somehow he knew that it had drained his master even more deeply than it had him.  Frodo’s spirit still burned bright, like a light shining from within, but it was as if the glow was now cloaked in ash, like the embers of a dying fire. 

He watched the play of firelight across his master’s sleeping form and noted the shadow that hid the fact that a finger was missing from his hand, and a deep and profound sadness filled him.  Somehow he knew that, whatever hopes he had cherished and whatever plans Frodo himself had made, some of those things would now never come to pass.  He remembered a morning in the house of Elrond, when he had brought Frodo breakfast after his long ordeal, and had sat watching him sleep then too.  He had dreamed of a day when he would see his beloved master happy, with a plump wife and child at his side and a little patch of garden for him and his to mind, but the image was dim now and fading away. 

Sam looked down.  It had once been devotion and pride of place that had kept him with the Bagginses.  They were good masters, and the finest hobbits in the Shire.  Old Mr. Bilbo had taught him his letters and Frodo had treated the motherless boy with warmth and respect, sharing with him the gift of Elven-lore that Sam had so loved.  He had been happy to give them his devoted service in return. 

But something had happened to him over the months of the quest.  He had learned his own worth.  Frodo seemed to have seen it long before he himself did.  What was it he had said?  That Sam would end up by becoming a wizard - or a warrior?  It was as if Sam had reached the point Frodo had known all along he would.  A tear slid down Sam's face, but he did not wipe it away.  He still didn't want to be warrior, or wizard either, for that matter.  He wanted only to serve his master.  He might have learned his own worth, but he also knew Frodo’s. 

He had watched his beloved father grow old, too, and seeing him becoming too stiff and old to work in Mr. Bilbo's garden had filled him with a similar keening regret.  But at least his father had lived a long and happy life.  It didn’t seem fair that Mr. Frodo, the wisest and most deserving person he knew, should never have the chance to know the sweetness of home, happiness and family which most hobbits took for granted.  If only he could somehow give him back the future the quest seemed to have stolen away. 

"We've seen a right turnabout, haven't we, master?" he whispered softly.  “I wish I could make it up to you, Mr. Frodo, but truth be told, I can’t."  He drew a breath and looked back up at his sleeping friend.  "And since I'm no warrior, or wizard neither, all I can do is promise to take care of you as best I can.  You won't want for nothing and that’s for certain.  There won’t be a hobbit in the Shire who’ll be better cared for.  No doubt you deserve more, lots more, but you’ll have your Sam, and Mr. Merry and Master Pippin, too, and we’ll see to it you have the best life a hobbit ever dreamed of.  And I’ll see to it that our folk know what you’ve done too, and remember it, and…”  His voice trailed off.

That was not what Frodo would want of him.  His friend - yes, he could say ‘friend’ now  - would want Sam to live his own life, and to live it well, and not be troubled by the older hobbit’s sorrows.  He would want to see them all happy and contented, living the lives he had sacrificed so much to protect.  Sam knew that, but in that moment it seemed a terrible burden to have to live and be happy while your heart was broken for another.  He sighed.  A burden, perhaps, but not as terrible as the one Frodo had borne. 

“I can do both,” he said, realizing as he said it that it was the only answer.  He nodded, confirming the decision to himself.  Frodo sighed in his dreaming but did not stir and Sam smiled at him with a tenderness and warmth that would have made Frodo shake his head and laugh if he'd been awake to see it.  “Don’t you fret about it none, sir.  I couldn’t be happy having it any other way.” 


The next time Merry woke, he was much stronger, but so sore even the healing bath of athelas could not completely ease his joints.  Pippin, dismissed from duties, stayed with him during his recuperation and Sam visited, bringing cheer and news of his master, but Frodo, similarly suffering, would not be up to making the trip to the Houses of Healing for several days. 

While the two injured hobbits recovered, Aragorn and Gandalf were engaged in a great labour indeed.  They had both disappeared from the city the night after the incident and none knew where they had gone, but when they returned the next afternoon, they bore with them a sapling whose trunk glistened like snow and whose roots had been wrapped gently in a dampened cloth.  There was a hastily called ceremony that, of the hobbits, only Pippin was able to attend, in which the old tree by the fountain of the Citadel was gently uprooted and carried off to the Houses of the Dead and the little seedling set in its place.

“It was as if that little thing knew it was in its home, Frodo!” the young Took laughed excitedly.  “I swear you could have seen its roots burrowing into that black soil as you watched!  It’s only been planted for three days, but already it’s got twice the leaves it had.  Oh, you should see it, Sam!  It’s no ordinary tree – it’s almost like it’s… aware of you!”

The four of them were relaxing in the gardens of the Houses of Healing.  Merry had finally been released from his bed, and Frodo’s stiffness had eased enough to let him come the short distance to visit him.  Both patients, walking to this meeting bent like old gaffers, had greeted each other with laughter and gingerly hugs, each delighted that the other was swiftly recovering.

“Aware?” asked Merry.  “Like an Ent, Pip?”

Pippin took a sip of his tea and shook his head.  “Not exactly, Merry.  It’s a grander little tree, in a way.  Not old and wise like Treebeard, more like a young and noble lordling.  There’s nothing dishevelled or mossy about this fellow.  He’s…”  Pippin stumbled on the words and finally gave up, explaining, “if Aragorn is a King of men, then this will be a King amongst trees, if that makes any sense.” 

Frodo nodded, smiling.  “It does indeed, Pip, and it makes me more eager than ever to see this marvel.”

“Aye, and myself as well,” agreed Sam.  “I’ll never tire of seeing new things sprouting up and this sounds like a marvel of the sort I daren't miss.  Might be I could jog up to the citadel this afternoon.”

“And I’ll let you,” said Frodo, meaning quite clearly that he was not up to such a trek as yet. 

Merry laughed, agreeing with his cousin, and rubbed his back for emphasis.  Though their talk was easy and familiar, he had kept one eye on Frodo the whole morning, looking for….  He wasn’t sure what.  He was almost to the point of wondering what he had earlier been worried about.  Though there was some quietness in his cousin's manner and perhaps just a hint of difference in the way Sam attended him.  The gardener was always eminently respectful, but his solicitousness suggested greater concern than for just this healing injury.  Though it was very subtle, Merry felt Sam was acting more as one would for a greatly aged but beloved father than for a dear master; with reverence, not just respect, and a touch of helpless sadness.

He knows, thought Merry suddenly.  There's something he knows about Frodo and either won't share it, or, more likely, won't admit it to himself.  Merry sat back, carefully, and sipped his tea, as if simply listening to Sam and Pippin's talk.  Frodo was similarly engaged and Merry's eyes studied him over the rim of his cup.

Frodo's face was clear and held a gentle if distant smile.  He looked happy, benevolent and wise, but it was as if his mind wandered other paths and sat in other gardens than the one he presently occupied.  Once in a while he would glance up and study one of his companions, and occasionally a look of tenderness would wash over his features that did not seem tied to the conversation going on around him.  The smile would warm on his face, lifting the corner of his mouth and making his eyes, slits of astonishing blue in the bright sun, sparkle beneath veiled lids. 

He looked to Merry and met the other hobbit's eyes, studying him in return.  Then he smiled, brilliantly and openly and Merry felt like a child who had sneaked a pie from a window ledge only to find that the treat had been left there purposefully for him to take. 

"Are our two invalids having words of their own?" laughed Pippin.  "Cousin Frodo looks decidedly conspiratorial." 

"Looks to me like they've both been wool-gathering.  Master Pippin, if I didn't know better, I'd say they've been bored by our talk!"  Sam raised a brow in mock indignation.  "Ought we to feel insulted?"

Frodo laughed.  "I am listening," he answered.  "It's comfortable talk, not boring, I assure you.  When you speak, I see bright futures filled with hope stretched out before you.  It is a sight that fills me with joy."  Then he shook his head, feigning exasperation.  "Yet you would scold an old hobbit for taking such ease as his poor wits can conjure?  For shame."

Pippin laughed outright and Merry blushed, but Sam, after a wry grin, looked hesitantly at his master.  "Does that mean you've been…?"  He shifted in his chair, glanced at Merry and Pippin as if for support and then seemed to decide to push on.  "Well, sir.  Here's a question I've been meaning to ask you, if it wouldn't be too forward of me."  He waited a moment and Frodo carefully nodded.  "Ever since that night when Gandalf left and we had that little talk about seeing things that hadn't been yet, I've been wondering…"

That statement, of course, caused Merry to gape in surprise and a flurry of exclamations interrupted the gardener, as both of Frodo’s younger cousins demanded an explanation.  Sam, after receiving a preoccupied nod from Frodo, described the conversation they'd had with Gandalf as clearly as he could. 

"This is very peculiar!  And quite astonishing!"  Merry declared.  He looked at Frodo with a serious and puzzled frown.  "You've seen us?  As we will be someday?"  He was not sure he believed the story.  His eyes narrowed.  "Sam says you had a sight of me in the future.  Does that mean I could ask you something, like who I'll marry, and you could tell me?" 

Frodo chuckled and shook his head.

"I wouldn't give much weight to it, Merry; consider the source!  But I will confess, now that I've been convinced by Gandalf that these imaginings aren't evil, that I have been letting my mind wander, contemplating you all."  His eyes sparkled with such cheer and compassion that they could not but smile back.  "I wouldn't presume to think that what I've seen is truth…"  He paused and his expression became more serious.  "But it comforts me," he said softly.  "Yes.  That it does."

Merry digested this strange, new information.  While quite an un-hobbit-like talent, if there had been one of his race who might have displayed such an elvish trait, it would have been Frodo. 

"And there, Mr. Frodo, is my question," persisted Sam.  His voice was low and deferential, but firm; he would not be gainsaid or evaded.  "You've got some hint our futures are bright and I'm right glad that's a comfort to you, sir, but," he sighed and his frank brown eyes put the question right to Frodo, insisting on an answer though his words were slow and hesitant, "what about yourself?" 

Frodo was silent and his look grew serious as the other hobbits fixed expectantly on him.  Merry felt a lump in his throat grow as memory stirred.  This was what he had feared, the very thing he had tried to explain to Pippin.  He had worried Frodo might be going away, feared his dear cousin leaving him in a manner that he couldn't prevent, no matter how many spies he engaged nor how intricate the plans he made.  Sam must have sensed something like it too.  He held his breath, as eager for the answer as he was afraid of it. 

"The future…" Frodo breathed at last, breaking the apprehensive silence with his quiet, thoughtful voice, "as Galadriel once told me, can be a perilous thing to see.  Can you ever know it with certainty and does your knowing it change what must be?"  A smile that was both gentle and full of wisdom crossed his face and Merry suddenly saw that there was nothing at all fragile or ephemeral or intangible about his cousin.  Frodo's will seemed revealed to him for the briefest of moments and Merry drew in his breath in amazement, perceiving it.  Here was a hobbit whose strength had changed the world, one whose deeds would be remembered by men after all the others of his race were dust.  There was something in Frodo Baggins as unyielding as the roots of a mountain and yet mortal, fallible and somehow even more incredible because of it. 

This was the strength that had dared to stand against the might of the Dark Lord in the heart of his realm.  And realizing that, Merry also had a glimpse of the kind of power it must have taken to overcome him.  He shivered as a chill ran down his spine. 

But the moment of clarity passed as if Frodo had put a veil over a great light and Merry was left blinking in astonishment at a face he had known and loved all his life, and wondering if he had ever really seen it before. 

"Perilous, it is, but sometimes good to know," Frodo continued.  "I… haven't seen much of myself, in future," he said with a chuckle, "though, as Gandalf explained it, I can understand why.  Still, from what I can piece together…"  Merry thought he caught a hint of melancholy in his cousin's voice but then Frodo shrugged and the shadows of foreboding seemed to scatter before his sudden, jubilant smile.  "From what I can see," he said, certainty strengthening him, "in the end, I think I will be all right."  His reassurance met each of them in turn.  "Yes, I will be all right," he said.  "And so will you be."

The End


* From The Return of the King, Book 6, Chapter 5, ‘The Steward and the King’ – Gandalf accompanies Aragorn to find the new white tree.

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