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Day 16 of the New Year (April 10 SR) Pippin's fever had risen sharply by the next morning, and his tentmates were alarmed to see red streaks creeping up his right arm from the injured hand. Legolas and Merry set to work applying cooling cloths while Gimli wasted no time in fetching the king.
Aragorn found Pippin bundled in a blanket sitting on Legolas' lap while Merry wiped his cousin's fever-flushed face. Pippin looked at him blearily and whispered, "Strider, I don't feel well."
"I can see that," Aragorn answered gravely, pulling a chair over to where Legolas sat at the edge of the hobbit's bed. He placed a hand on Pippin's brow to check his temperature while feeling his pulse at his neck with his other hand before saying, "Let me look at this hand."
Pippin offered Aragorn the injured hand, sitting up straighter. "I'm sorry, Strider," he said miserably. "I know you have lots of important things to do and instead you have to spend all this time taking care of me."
"Peregrin Took." Aragorn's voice was reproachful. "What could I possibly have to do that is more important than taking care of you?" He smiled kindly at the hobbit, and Pippin returned the smile gratefully, if wanly. The king then set to work uncovering the damaged hand.
Gimli steadied the arm and accepted the bandages that Aragorn unwrapped while Merry tightly held Pippin's good hand and Legolas cradled the hobbit close. The bandages gave way to a sight that made everyone's breath catch in their throats.
The hand was obviously infected, an angry red swath running from the base of the palm up Pippin's arm. The skin in the affected area was taut and shiny. Moreover, Pippin's fingers still looked mangled, all wrong angles. "Oh, no," Pippin said, and started crying. "Strider, look at my hand!"
"Oh, Pip," Aragorn answered with concern, touching the hand gently and feeling the heat radiate from it. "I see it. That isn't good, is it? No wonder you feel bad."
Merry's face was white and his eyes wide, and Legolas and Gimli looked shaken. The hand had looked badly healed but not greatly swollen and with no trace of infection just two days prior. No one had said the word "amputation" to Pippin, but the other three had heard it regarding this hand should infection set in, and their fear was apparent. Aragorn carefully turned the injured hand over between his two larger hands, looking at it closely, then sighed heavily.
"Pippin, we have to stop this infection, and that means I have to cut and drain your hand," he said. "And these fingers must be reset. It's possible they are aggravating the infection."
"So you have to break my fingers again?" Pippin asked, understanding immediately.
Aragorn nodded and put a comforting hand on Pippin's knee. "I am sorry, Pippin. Let me get some supplies and someone to assist. It should be done right away."
Pippin nodded, still sniffly and wet-eyed. "If you can't fix it, will you have to cut off my hand?" he asked tremulously.
"Pippin!" Merry exclaimed. "Who told you that?" Aragorn's hand quickly encircled the older hobbit's upper arm to calm him.
"I may have to do that yet, Pippin," he told his patient, "but only after I have tried everything else, and only if it is a choice between the hand and your life."
Pippin met Aragorn's eyes steadily, then nodded woefully and tried to press closer to Legolas. His good hand squeezed Merry's ferociously. "All right," he mumbled.
"All right," Aragorn repeated softly. "I'll be right back."
The four friends were silent for long moments, and then Pippin said, "No one told me, Merry, but that's what happens when your hand is all mangled, isn't it? I'm not stupid."
Merry raised Pippin's good hand to his lips and placed a little kiss on the knuckles. "No, you're not," he answered. "I didn't want you to have to know about such awful things is all."
"I know about awfuller things, Merry," Pippin said, and something in his tone made tears spring to Merry's eyes.
Aragorn returned with the healer woman who had been helping tend to Pippin, ending the conversation. The king began laying instruments out on a clean linen cloth on the small trunk in the tent.
"Do you want to remain on Legolas' lap, Pippin?" he asked, and Pippin nodded.
"Can I?" the hobbit asked.
"Yes," Aragorn said, setting medicinal supplies out with the instruments. "Would you clean the hand?" he asked the healer woman.
She was already approaching the hobbit, a small bucket of steaming water in one hand and a vial and cloth in the other. "And here I thought I was done with you," she told Pippin tartly. He smiled faintly in reply as she sat down.
"Hullo," he said, and let her take the hand.
"This will smart some," she warned before wetting the cloth with clear liquid from the vial and then washing the hand with it. Pippin gritted his teeth and shut his eyes but did not fight her.
"And this should not hurt a bit," she said kindly when she had finished, and put the hand in the small bucket of hot water. Pippin sighed a bit in relief, and Legolas rubbed his back. The healer woman vacated the chair and stood at Aragorn's side as he gave her instructions in a low voice. She nodded, then set to work sterilizing a small knife over a candle while Aragorn carefully washed his hands in a basin of water. He then sat down and pulled the chair up close to Pippin.
"Let's see what we have now," he said, drawing the hand from the bucket. After having soaked for several minutes, the skin was no longer shiny, but it was puffy and red. Aragorn gently dried it off with a small cloth, then carefully felt along the palm, focusing on a new scar near the bottom of the palm where something had sliced in during the initial crushing. Aragorn wet a corner of the cloth with a brownish liquid from yet another vial and swiped over this area of the hand.
"Gimli," Aragorn said quietly, "would you hold Pippin's arm still at the elbow and shoulder. And Legolas, make sure his upper body doesn't move. Merry, I'm sorry, but I need more room."
Merry looked reproachfully at Aragorn but moved out of the way. Pippin tracked him with frightened eyes as Gimli grasped the younger hobbit's shoulder and elbow.
The healer woman handed Aragorn the sterilized knife without being asked, and Pippin instinctively drew back, pressing into Legolas. "You don't have to watch, Pippin," the elf said, turning the hobbit's head into his chest. He tightened his grip and nodded to Aragorn that he was ready.
"Pippin, just breathe deep and steady," Aragorn said. "This actually should not hurt a great deal. I'm starting now."
The king carefully sliced into the infected area and within seconds a thick yellow substance began to ooze out. Pippin gave a little squeak, but did not move or cry out further. Merry wrapped his arms tightly about his chest and took a faltering half-step forward, then two deliberate steps back. The healer woman steadied the hand itself, holding a cloth beneath it to catch and clean up the foul matter coming out of the infected area.
Once the incision had stopped oozing, Aragorn gripped Pippin's forearm and began pushing into the limb with his thumbs, down from the elbow toward the hand. This prompted more infected matter to seep from the incision, and Pippin's breath to hitch.
"All right, Pip?" Legolas asked, cradling his head with a hand and stroking his curls. Pippin nodded, but did not pull his face away from the elf's chest. Aragorn repeated this pressing procedure from several different angles on the hand and arm, until no trace of the yellowish substance discharged from the wound.
"I know this isn't pleasant, Pippin," he said at one point, "but it's important we get all of the infection out, or you could suffer from blood poisoning, which can be very, very serious."
"Yes," Pippin said in a tiny, muffled voice, head still buried in Legolas' shirt. Three sets of troubled eyes fixed on Aragorn as he said this, wondering exactly what "very, very serious" meant, but the king did not elaborate for hobbit, elf or dwarf. Finally, the draining was complete and Aragorn sat back with a sigh as the healer woman brought back the bucket, filled again with hot water, and had Pippin soak his hand again for several minutes. She then cleaned the wound one last time with the brownish liquid.
"All done," she said briskly, moving away, and Pippin finally emerged, heaving a sigh of relief.
"That wasn't so bad," he said, looking carefully at his hand. The swelling was greatly reduced, and the skin no longer taut and shiny.
"No, but I have to stitch that up now," Aragorn said, nodding at the wound he had put in Pippin's palm. He got up to rewash his hands and then returned with a needle and a thick black strand of horse hair. Pippin watched calmly, even when Aragorn warned, "I'm afraid this will hurt more than when I cut into the hand, Pippin." The hobbit merely nodded that he was ready and willingly extended his hand.
Aragorn started, estimating that the wound would require about a dozen stitches. It was clear from the start that this procedure was more difficult for Pippin than the cutting and draining had been. His face going white and his breathing quickening, he returned his face to Legolas' chest. After a moment, he began to whimper.
Merry, still tucked away into a corner of the tent, clenched his jaw to stifle his objections to anything that caused his little cousin pain. Gimli adjusted his grip on Pippin's arm when it began to twitch involuntarily.
"Should you not give him something to ease the pain?" the dwarf burst out roughly, startling everyone.
Aragorn kept his eyes on his task. "I will when this is over, but he still has to have those fingers reset, and I don't want any of the medication to have worn off when I do that," he said steadily. "I would have to give him too much if he had it now -- he's built up some resistance to the pain medication we've been giving him. He also may want some after everything is done, and I could not offer anything if he were to have it now. But, Pippin, if it is too bad, I could give you a little something now. Just know that it will limit our options later."
"No, I don't need anything now," Pippin said in a high, fast voice. "Just hurry, please."
"I am, Pip," Aragorn reassured him. "It will be over soon."
No one spoke as the king finished stitching up the hand, but finally it was done and he wrapped the palm in fresh bandages. Merry began pressing closer as soon as Aragorn set aside the needle and snipped off the extra horse hair, so when Aragorn finally pushed the chair back and moved away, Merry was beside his cousin in an instant.
"All done, Pip," he said in a low voice, rubbing Pippin's back. Pippin turned his head away from Legolas' chest, revealing damp eyes and a white face. "You were so brave," Merry said quietly. "I'm so proud."
"Uh-huh," Pippin said, and leaned into Merry's embrace wearily, breathing heavily and sniffling a little. Legolas stroked the hobbit's hair and tilted his head down to smile into Pippin's face encouragingly while Gimli patted Pip's knee. Aragorn and the healer woman busied themselves preparing for the resetting of the bones, and allowed the three friends to comfort Pippin, and to brace for the coming ordeal.
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