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Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings is owned by J.R.R. Tolkien, his family, New Line cinema, etc. I have written this story for my own enjoyment.
Credit: To www dot Tuckborough dot net, but also to the Plants For A Future website.
Note: This chapter amended on 10/07/2012.
Frogmorton, 1435 Shire Reckoning
Merry burst into Sam’s room and recoiled with shock at what he saw. His friend was lying on the floor beside the bed tangled in a sweat-soaked sheet.
Sam’s prone body was crumpled on its side and he clutched what looked suspiciously like great clumps of bloody hair in his clenched fists. To Merry’s horror, bare scalp was evident in the places where Sam had clearly ripped his hair out with considerable force; the wounds remaining bled profusely, and both brow and temples were scratched badly.
Although the screaming had stopped, Sam was now apparently unconscious.
Merry blanched in horror. What on earth ..?
Knowing there was no time to lose, the Brandybuck rushed over to his friend’s side and fell to his knees.
“Sam! Sam!” he cried, shaking the gardener’s shoulders vigorously in the hope of reviving him. There was no response.
Worry clutched at Merry’s heart as he rolled Sam onto his back. With a heave, he pulled the Mayor’s limp form as far off the ground as he could and cradled his torso and head against his chest. Fever burned in Sam’s brow.
What in the name of the Shire could have caused this?
Realising he had to get him off the floor and back into bed, where he would be easier to tend, Merry attempted to lift Sam. But, despite the gardener’s obvious weight loss, he couldn’t quite manage it alone. Laying his friend carefully on the floor, he dashed to the door and yelled down the corridor for assistance, desperately hoping that some other guest was within earshot. But barely had he commenced with his cries when Mistress Goodenough herself came running up the hall, her dark shawl thrown haphazardly over her nightly garments, and a candle in her trembling hand.
“What’s going on Mr Brandybuck, sir? What was that screaming I heard? Is something wrong?” Her blue eyes were large with concern.
“It’s Sam … Mayor Sam. He’s had a fall and is injured. He won’t answer when I call him. You must fetch a healer immediately - and get someone to help me lift him back into bed!”
There was an edge to his voice as Merry barked instructions at the homely wife, but he was far too worried for his friend to mind his manners.
Florabella moved past him, entering the room to assess the situation for herself. She gasped in shock at the grisly scene then left in haste, stating that she would despatch Farlibar to assist her guests and fetch the healer herself.
Relieved that help was finally on its way, Merry dashed to the dressing table, grabbed the towels lying there and doused one liberally with water from the jug. Kneeling beside Sam, he began to wipe the blood from his brow and temples, then removed the bloody hair from his fists and wiped them clean.
Hearing footfalls outside, the Master of Brandy Hall looked to the door and witnessed Farlibar entering the room. The cook made his way over to the bed, paling at the sight of the Mayor.
Foregoing explanations, Merry snapped out more orders. “Quick, help me lift him onto the bed.”
“Let me just arrange it quickly, sir. We can‘t put him back into it with those bloody sheets,” said the sturdy hobbit. Merry gently cradled Sam’s head in his arms, waiting impatiently while Farlibar took fresh ones from the bottom drawer of the dresser and hastily made the up the bed.
Once completed, they freed Sam from his soiled sheet. Grasping him by his arms and legs, they lifted him onto the soft mattress and covered him with a clean blanket.
“What happened to him sir?” the cook dared to ask as Merry daubed gingerly at the open wounds on Sam’s scalp. Fortunately, they were not deep, but a few layers of skin had been ripped off with the hair and Merry knew that head wounds tended to bleed a lot.
“I’m not entirely sure,” he replied in distraction, applying pressure through the towel to the largest wounds in an effort to stem the flow of blood. “I heard screaming and when I followed the sound it led me to the Mayor’s room. I found him on the floor, unconscious and with lumps of hair in his hands. I think he suffered a night terror.”
Farlibar gulped and Merry knew he must be wondering what kind of night terror could cause such an extreme reaction. Unwilling to alarm the cook with further explanation of what Sam’s dream may have been about, Merry sent him to fetch more towels and some hot water for the healer when he arrived.
When the cook had closed the door behind him, Merry's gaze returned to Sam. He placed a hand on his forehead, silently willing the gardener to wake up. There was no response. He tried talking to him, hoping the sound of his voice would rouse him, but to no avail. Sam remained silent, the only motion on his form were the patches of crimson appearing through his makeshift bandage.
With a deep frown marring his brow, Merry continued his vigil at his friend‘s side. He had never seen the brave gardener in such a state. Even on the fields of Cormallen, when Sam’s body had still shown evidence of the ravages of Mordor, he had not been so eerily prone; reposing instead in the rejuvenating healing sleep he had been placed into by the hands of the King.
“Oh Strider, I wish that you were here now. Sam needs you,” muttered Merry.
It was a foolish prayer and Merry knew it. Aragorn was in Gondor and thus too far away to be of immediate assistance.
With a sigh of exasperation he cursed himself, recalling his fruitless attempts to make Sam talk after dinner. What had he been thinking to tread so cautiously around the subject? He should have came right out and demanded that his friend tell him what was wrong! If he had been more persistent, told Sam that he was being foolish to dismiss his worries so quickly, this may have been avoided!
But Merry knew it was useless to try and ’roast the tater after it was mashed’, as Sam would say. He was also aware that there was no quicker way to ensure Sam closed himself off than by making such demands of him.
And now, with the benefit of hindsight, Merry blamed himself, however irrationally. Armed with his suspicions about the One Ring and its possible lingering effects, he cursed himself again.
Still, if this was the Ring’s doing, what could he possibly do to help Sam fight such an evil thing? What could anyone do? For there was no one left in all Middle Earth who had experience with it!
No one but Samwise Gamgee, last of the Ring-bearers.
A wave of frustration swept through the hobbit knight and he had the sudden urge to scream at the unfairness of it all. Why had Gandalf, with all his wisdom, not thought about leaving provision if such a thing happened? What good was the elven knowledge of Ages if Galadriel and Elrond were safe in Valinor?
It’s all very well for them, he thought bitterly, clasping Sam’s hand tightly. They may have found their peace across the Sea, but Sam has no such comfort!
With a deep sigh he shook the unreasonable thought from his mind. After all Sam may wake up in a few hours. Perhaps he was being premature in his assumptions regarding the Ring; he hadn’t seen Sam in a few months and had no knowledge of what may have befallen his friend in that time. The gardener’s condition may have nothing at all to do with their Quest!
As if in response to that thought, Sam began to thrash weakly about the bed and Merry, caught unaware, almost jumped out of his skin. Mumbling feverishly, his friend's hands snaked slowly towards his head, trying to tug away the blood-spotted towel.
“Liar … stop it … it’s not true! Forgive your Sam … Mr Frodo …”
“Sam, Sam! It’s not real! It’s a dream. You must wake up!” Merry yanked the rambling hobbit’s hands away from his head, his voice raised urgently in an attempt to rouse his friend. But it didn’t work and Sam fell silent again, exhausted and perspiring heavily from his small exertions.
If he had suspected it before, Merry’s heart sank at the realisation of his worst fear. Sam was exhibiting too many similarities to Frodo during his anniversaries: his distraction at dinner, the lack of concentration by the fireplace, his sickly appearance and now the fevered dreams and apparent stupor.
It could not be anything else.
Florabella Goodenough’s anxious tones in the hallway broke into his troubled thoughts and Merry glanced hopefully at the door. It opened to reveal the homely matron and a portly hobbit that could only be the local healer.
“Mr Brandybuck, this is Healer Tubbit,” said the proprietress indicating the white-haired hobbit who stepped into the room behind her. Healer Tubbit sported a rumpled brown suit, which he had obviously donned in haste, and moved with surprising agility towards the bed.
Merry stepped aside, allowing the healer to examine Sam. Mistress Goodenough hovered over the end of the bed, glancing from patient to healer, before worriedly enquiring as to what was troubling the Mayor.
“Well, apart from the obvious, he’s burning up with fever and his heart is racing,” said Tubbit brusquely, having removed the towel from Sam‘s head to inspect the damage. “What happened here?”
Deeming any mention of the Quest superfluous - at least for the present - Merry explained the situation as concisely as possible. Tubbit grunted upon hearing that Sam had torn the hair from his head, then requested that the area around the bed be cleared so he could tend to him properly. Both Merry and Florabella quickly complied. Farlibar returned with hot water and towels a few minutes later, sparing Sam a worried glance as he deposited them on the dressing table. Noting the arrival, Tubbit thanked the young cook for the supplies and shooed him abruptly from the room.
With the cook gone and more room to manoeuvre round the bed properly, the healer opened his little bag and removed soft linen cloths and pot marigold. Realising that a poultice was forthcoming, Merry quickly removed the soiled towel from Sam’s head so Tubbit could cleanse it before applying the herbal preparation, the gesture earning him a grateful nod from the older hobbit.
“Has he regained consciousness since you found him?” enquired the healer briskly, leaning over Sam once more.
“Only once, before you arrived, but he was delirious and trying to get at his scalp again,” replied Merry with a frown. “Then he just stopped and hasn’t moved since.”
“That might not be such a bad thing for the moment. He’s lost a good bit of blood from his head wounds, though not altogether too much - they aren’t all that deep. Still, I don‘t want him plucking out his hair again any time soon.”
Tubbit’s relief was little comfort to Merry. Sam was in danger and only he knew the reason why. The healer would be able to do nothing more than treat his superficial injuries.
“What really worries me is the fever and what may have caused it,” continued Tubbit. “Has the Mayor been ill recently?”
Merry replied that Sam appeared to have lost a good bit of weight since he last saw him. He also informed Tubbit that Sam had been rubbing his head all evening, as if in pain.
“Have any of his family been struck with similar symptoms?“ queried Tubbit, who was applying freshly made poultices to Sam’s head while they spoke.
“Not to my knowledge,” answered Merry.
“Well it sounds like we can rule out the danger of it being contagious then.” The healer began to dress the scratches on Sam’s brow and temples.
“I don’t think we ever had to worry on that account,” muttered Merry. He felt the healer’s curious glance, but did not elaborate on his remark. Tubbit harrumphed.
“Nevertheless, I would like to speak with his wife. She’d be able to tell me more about what’s been going on with him and for how long.”
“She’s with child at present. I’m not sure that the journey from Hobbiton would be wise,” supplied Merry with a shake of his curly head. He did not want to drag Rose here unnecessarily, not when there was a chance that Sam may still win the battle. After all, Frodo’s bouts of illness hadn’t lasted more than a few days - though their effects had lingered longer.
For all his caution on Rose’s behalf, he knew that when she was informed of her husband’s illness, she would travel to Frogmorton regardless. It’s what Estella would do and Sam’s wife was no less determined, despite her condition.
The healer wrapped his patient’s head with a bandage then took some paste from one of his pots and scooped a generous amount of it into a bowl. He added hot water, mixed it up and placed the bowl on the dressing table next to the bed as vapours began to rise from it. The room filled with the scent of lavender.
“If she’s less than seven months gone the journey should not be too much of a strain,” said Tubbit.
Merry told him she was about six months into the pregnancy. The healer nodded in satisfaction, informing him that if the Mayor had not fully awakened by mid-morning, she should be sent for.
Tubbit gathered his herbs and accoutrements and placed them back in his bag, then addressed Merry.
"I've put poultices on his scalp wounds and applied some marigold paste to his scratches. They should aid with the healing. Check them every four hours and I’ll replace them when I come over later in the morning to see if he‘s better. I’ll leave a pot of lavender paste next to the bowl on the dressing table. Mix some with hot water every two hours and the steam from that should help with his headaches, if he’s still suffering with them.”
Merry nodded in understanding. “What about his fever?” he asked.
“The plant his poultice is made of should help to bring it down,” informed the healer. “Some cold cloths to his forehead and neck should help too, but change them regularly.”
Merry thanked the healer and Tubbit departed with a courteous nod of his snowy head. Florabella followed in the healer’s wake, stating that she would return shortly with fresh water and cloths. The door closed behind them with a soft click and, all too soon, he was alone in the room with his inanimate friend.
Pulling a chair from the table over to the bed and taking a seat, Merry clasped Sam‘s hand in his own to begin his vigil anew.
“Fight this Sam!” he whispered in his friend’s ear. “You’re stronger than anyone I know. You beat the Ring before, you can do it again!”
The night was long and Merry did not rest at all well during those dark hours, though he was not alone in this misfortune. Sam moaned and struggled in his sleep several times after the healer departed and Merry had been hard pressed to hold him down as his efforts to claw at his bandaged head grew ever more desperate.
But he had finally calmed, allowing Merry a brief respite to doze. The Master of Buckland rested his weary head on the edge of the bed and closed his eyes for an hour or two. Come morning, Merry’s neck was stiff as reward for it. And he was still tired; his eyes smarted horribly and his head ached dully, but he could not think of his own discomfort while Sam was ill.
Now, just after mid-morning, Tubbit arrived to renew the poultices.
The healer clucked in disapproval upon noting that Sam’s fever showed no visible improvement.
“That fever would be easier to treat if the Mayor was conscious,“ he remarked with a frown. “Still, no use worrying about that just now. It’s early days yet. But if he’s not awake by this evening, I might have to think about using the old farmer’s method to get some fluid in his stomach. Unpleasant business, but it does the trick. See if you can’t rouse him at some point, Mr Brandybuck, and get him to swallow even a few mouthfuls of marigold tea. The Mayor must have liquids and this infusion will help his body fight the fever.”
Merry nodded, desperately hoping it wouldn’t come to the point where Tubbit would have to start sticking hollow reeds down his friend‘s throat.
“You must write to his wife now. It will take her at least a day to get here in her condition and I’ll need to speak with her as soon as possible,” continued Tubbit, unaware of his companion‘s fears.
“I've already sent Farlibar to have it posted to her,” Merry replied, feeling grateful that the young cook had been willing to help after the teasing he took from him yesterday. “But I must be honest with you Healer Tubbit; I don’t believe that she will be able to enlighten you further.”
Tubbit regarded him steadily, awaiting expansion of this statement. Merry sighed deeply. He hadn’t wanted to share this, for he knew the healer may not be able to treat the true cause of Sam’s affliction and explaining it would only compound his helplessness, but that did not mean he should withhold information that Tubbit, as Sam’s healer, should know.
Deeming the healer’s need greater than his own, Merry gave him a brief, but succinct, account of the four hobbits’ journey outside the Shire those many years ago, and of the particular trials Frodo and Sam endured in Mordor, with particular emphasis on the effects they had had on Frodo. He then described the content of Sam’s fevered mutterings throughout the night and related his own suspicions about their cause.
When he was finished, Tubbit took a weary seat at the table to digest all that he had heard and Merry took the chair across from him.
“Why did you not tell me this last night?” demanded the old hobbit in accusation.
The Master of Brandy Hall shifted uncomfortably in his seat as the healer’s eyes bored through him. “It would have been of no immediate use. I had hoped Sam might have woken up by now, making further explanation unnecessary, but he hasn't.”
Tubbit ran a wrinkled hand through his snowy hair and shook his head in disbelief.
“I knew some things about your time outside the Shire, but I didn’t know the extent of it,” admitted the healer ruefully. “I won’t pretend to understand what you all went through, young sir. Nor will I deny that there are great evils in the world - I think most folk in the Shire are aware of that after Sharkey’s time here.”
He lifted his head to regard Merry. “But if what you say about the Dark Lord’s trinket being destroyed is true, I don’t understand how it could still be affecting the Mayor.”
Realising that the healer would never be able to comprehend the power of the Ring, Merry simply said:
“It was an evil so great that the Elves feared it; Gandalf would not touch it for fear of losing himself to its power and becoming a threat to us all in his own right; and that - even after its destruction - it left such memories in my cousin’s mind that they would have killed him had he not left Middle Earth forever and sailed with the Elves across the Sea.”
The healer laid an elbow on the table and rested his chin in his hand, a lone finger tapping absently against his cheek as he spoke. “If this is indeed what afflicts Mayor Sam - if this Ring has such influence over his mind - then there may be very little that I or anyone in the Shire can do to help him. This is a battle he may very well have to fight on his own.”
“I know,” Merry replied, eyes downcast. He raised his head as a chair scraped against the floor and Healer Tubbit rose to leave.
“I’ll come over again this afternoon to change the poultices and see if there’s been any improvement in his condition,” the elder hobbit announced. “I want you to rub his limbs to keep his circulation moving properly and keep changing the cold towels to help break the fever. We may not be able to help his mind, but we can treat his physical symptoms and maybe give the Mayor a better chance to fight this magical Ring’s hold on him. Try to get a few hours rest yourself, sir; he’ll need you to be fit and well if you’re to help him.”
Tubbit paused briefly after donning his coat, sparing Merry a thoughtful glance. “Don’t you worry now, young sir. Ring or not, I’ll do everything I can to help the Mayor. Now, I’d best be off. Until later then, Mr Brandybuck.”
With that, the healer was gone.
With a weary sigh, Merry dropped his head into his hand and rubbed at his aching temple. Tubbit was right: he needed to rest. Just as the thought flashed through his mind, Sam broke his unnatural silence with a low moan and he turned to witness his friend’s growing restlessness. Once more, the gardener battled a demon he couldn’t see and was ill-prepared to cope with. How could he even think about resting when Sam needed him? Sam’s need came before his and that was all there was to it! If only he had some help …
But what help? There was no one else present to aid him. And he couldn’t count on much more than basic assistance from the Floating Log’s proprietress; although she would do all in her power, she and Farlibar would be too busy with the business of the inn to relieve him for very long.
Frustrated, he slammed his hands on the table. This would never do! If Sam was going to fight this, he was going to need more than one weary friend! And Merry would not let his friend fight it alone.
I need reinforcements and the sooner, the better, Merry realised. But first he would have to clear his own head. If only he’d had the sense to carry some athelas with him …
Merry slapped his forehead in irritation. Sam was a gardener and he knew for a fact the organised hobbit always had a few leaves in his pack when he travelled even short distances.
Rising swiftly from his chair, Merry quickly retrieved Sam’s pack, opened it, and searched for the familiar oilskin cloth he kept his herbs and plants in. Located it quickly, he pulled it out. To his chagrin, there was only one leaf within the cloth, though he refused to let it dishearten him further. One leaf might not last all day, but hopefully it wouldn‘t have to.
Armed with the athelas, he boiled some water and crushed the leaf into a bowl, then poured the hot water over it. The room slowly filled with its soothing fragrance. It wasn't as strong though as when Strider, or even Sam, prepared it, but it helped nonetheless. Merry breathed of it deeply and soon felt much more alert and refreshed.
Sparing a quick glance at the bed, he noted that Sam struggles had eased a little, and that the sickly hobbit was breathing somewhat easier too. Lifting the steaming bowl, he stepped over to the dressing table and swapped it with the one containing the cold lavender water, berating himself for not having thought of it sooner. Still, there was no use worrying about that now. He had other matters to take care of.
With his head clearer and his friend temporarily at ease, Merry deemed it safe to begin making plans. Pippin would want to be there for Sam too, so he wrote his cousin a quick letter, apprising him of the situation and telling him to make his way to the Floating Log with all possible haste. He finished the letter by advising him to bring as much of the athelas that Sam had planted at the Great Smials as he could, and folded it afterwards with a good deal of satisfaction. Pippin would get there faster than Rose could in her condition, and would not mind leaving his in-laws to their daughter for a while, given the circumstances.
Turning his thoughts to home, the Master of Brandy Hall also wrote a quick note to Estella informing her of his delay and requesting that she to see to the running of the house during his absence, knowing that she was more than equal to the task.
Once his wife’s letter had been folded and placed neatly by Pippin’s, Merry debated whether or not he should also send one to the elves in Rivendell. Elrond’s sons had not yet followed their father to Valinor and it struck him that they may be of assistance. Unfortunately, it could take several weeks before he got a reply from them and he wasn’t sure what Sam’s situation would be in that time - he may have recovered, but he may not.
He decided to send it anyway. If Sam did recover, any advice they could give him would at least be helpful in the future if such a thing happened again.
All three letters were shortly despatched by Messenger Post with strict instructions from Merry to deliver the one to the Thain with all possible speed.
With his task accomplished, Merry resumed his vigil by Sam’s bed in a considerably lighter mood. He removed the stale cloths from the gardener’s forehead and neck and replaced them with fresh ones that he had soaked in the athelas solution. Despatching the letters had been the most positive action he had taken yet, and Merry definitely felt better for having taken some control of the situation. With a little luck, it wouldn’t be too long before Pippin arrived!
Bending over the bed, he ran a gentle hand over Sam’s forehead, trying to communicate his thoughts to the stricken gardener with sheer force of will.
Don’t worry Sam. You’re not alone. We’re going to get you through this. The Ring might think its got you, but it doesn’t know the Samwise Gamgee that we do, and it doesn’t know your friends either. It won’t have you too, I promise!
What Merry didn’t know was that he would not have to wait as long as he thought for reinforcements.
The elven sons of Elrond were already on their way.
Author's Note: Bet you're all wondering how they could have known. Read on to find out!
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