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For Shelley, Febobe, Gamgeefest, and Arc5 for their birthdays.
Aftermath of the Spider’s Bite
“Elrohir?” enquired a voice.
Elrond’s younger son looked up from the store of comfrey he was evaluating to see the Ringbearer standing in the doorway. “Master Frodo?” he asked. “Am I able to offer you any assistance?”
The Hobbit took a tentative step forward, his expression rather diffident. “Actually, yes, you can,” he answered. He reached up to pull the hair away from the back of his neck. “It’s the place where that spider bit me, there in the Pass of Cirith Ungol,” he explained.
The peredhel grew more attentive. “Is it bothering you again, then?”
Frodo nodded, appearing relieved not to have to explain himself. “So, Aragorn told you about it, then?”
“Yes. He told us that it has drained twice, once in Minas Tirith in May and a second time while we were traveling between Gondor and Rohan for the funeral of Lord Théoden.”
“Yes, and now it is again becoming swollen and quite painful. I fear it is nearly ready to drain once more.”
“Would you like for me to summon my father?”
Frodo winced. “I doubt that there is any need for that. You could lance it for me, could you not?”
“Of course, if that is what you would wish.”
“Please. I don’t wish to make more of it than it needs to be, you see.”
“Then let us go to one of the examination rooms so that I might see it better.”
Elrohir led the way to a small room that boasted quite a large window looking southward over the Brúinen toward the pastures where Rivendell’s horses and ponies grazed in the brightness of a crisp September morning. “I am rather surprised that you aren’t with Master Bilbo this morning,” he said as he indicated a bench where the Hobbit could sit down. “Is it not true that you and he share today as your birthday?”
“We do, but until this is drained I do not wish to force anyone else to endure my presence,” Frodo said as he undid the buttons to the shirt he wore. “Should I remove it?” he asked.
“It would undoubtedly be wise,” Elrohir answered. “I should be able to see the place more easily, and if I find it is ready to lance the drainage is less likely to spoil your clothing.” He reached down to assist Frodo to remove the garment. Under it the Hobbit wore the padded silk shirt intended to be worn under his Dwarf mail. Elrohir considered it and the possible reasons Frodo might have for wearing it. At last he hazarded, “Do you often feel particularly cold, Master Baggins?”
Frodo grimaced as he reached to untie the laces at the throat. “Yes,” he admitted, “I often do. It is not as intense a cold as I knew when I was suffering from the Morgul wound, but I will suddenly find myself shivering when others appear to be more than comfortable with the temperature.”
The peredhel nodded his understanding, and again assisted the Hobbit to remove the garment. He fetched a high stool with a low back, setting it facing away from the window, and assisted Frodo up onto its seat. He then lifted Frodo’s hair up off of his neck so that he could examine the site of the spider bite, and found himself suppressing a shudder. He could easily see where the two mandibles of the creature had pierced the flesh on either side of the large raised boil that had formed to the posterior right side of Frodo’s neck, as well as the mass of pus just under the skin. The scars from the spider’s mouth-parts were nearly black, and behind the pus was a core of darkness that somehow appeared to writhe. Why it made him feel sick to his stomach he could not say.
“I will need to trim your hair away from the place first,” Elrohir said, carefully keeping his voice steady.
“I know,” Frodo sighed. “Aragorn had to do the same before.”
Elrohir left to fetch a tray of clean instruments; cloths for cleaning away the matter once the site was lanced; alcohol, a kettle of hot water on a wrought stand that held it over a candle, and leaves of athelas to cleanse the boil both before and after it was emptied; and a pair of fine scissors along with a draping sheet to catch the hair. After thinking on the situation for a time, he added the gauze used to wrap his mouth and nose so as to protect the wound, although in this case he had the feeling that it would protect himself more than it would the Hobbit.
He began by draping the sheet with care and gently cutting Frodo’s curly hair short enough that it would not afterward touch the site where the boil was now. “I am rather surprised that Master Samwise did not accompany you here,” he commented so as to offer a distraction to his patient. “He is so rarely far from your side.”
Frodo shrugged slightly, if a bit stiffly. “We are not precisely joined at the hip,” he answered. “He and my cousins are planning the quiet party that we will enjoy with Bilbo at noon, so I was able to slip away. He will not be happy to see my hair trimmed again, for both he and Aragorn appear to prefer it to be long. But this will be better once we return to the Breelands and home, for we gentlehobbits don’t tend to wear our hair anywhere as long as do the Men of Gondor or Rohan, much less as long as do Elves.”
Elrohir nodded. He had heard much the same from Bilbo over the years, and he’d often seen to it that the older Hobbit’s hair was cut in keeping with the fashion of his own people. It did not take too long before he had Frodo’s suitably trimmed and shaped, at which time he brought a mirror from a side table so that Frodo could see how he now looked. Frodo nodded solemnly, and indicated that Elrohir should do what was needed now to cleanse the boil.
The peredhel took a deep breath to steady himself, and examined the boil carefully. He found he could not bring himself to touch it with his fingers. There was just something about it that he found too unsettling to bear. It was ready to drain—that was clear. “It must be quite painful,” he said.
Frodo gave another slight shrug. “Yes, and I find that turning my head or moving it far in any direction is difficult when it is this swollen. I also tend to suffer from additional problems with my digestion, which as you know has become—delicate.” He paused, again grimacing, then added, “Aragorn has discussed it with both other healers in Minas Tirith and with your father, and all agree that it appears there is something there in the depths of it around which the recurring infections grow. But all also agree that it is in too delicate a place for a probe to be wise. Your father told me that if the surgeon’s knife or the tongs were to slip I could easily find myself unable to move from that point down, or able to do so only with the greatest of concentration. As it only tends to drain every seven to eight weeks or so, I have decided to leave it be and to keep an eye on it in between times.”
“Undoubtedly a wise decision,” Elrohir answered, and again shuddered as he noted that the dark core behind the pus appeared to move once more. “Does it feel odd?” he asked as he poured steaming water into a basin and crushed two athelas leaves into it. Under his breath he murmured the invocation for healing he tended to favor, and this time he added a special prayer to Yavanna to add potency for cleansing to the athelas. He dipped a cloth into the basin as the scent of fruit trees and flowering plants overlaid with what he knew to be the tang of the Sea filled the room. The Sea? What would a Hobbit of the Shire who admittedly had never left the boundaries of his own land ere he fled it with the Ring know of the Sea? he wondered.
Frodo appeared to be considering the question. “Well, most of the time I don’t feel anything there unless I happen to brush it particularly hard when brushing my hair,” he said. “But there is a decided tickle deep beneath the skin from time to time, and particularly as it begins to fill once more. It’s not a pleasant tickle, either, and at times it feels as if I were being stung or—or bitten there. Inside the wound, that is.”
Elrohir felt his shoulders shiver. “Have you told this to my adar?” he asked.
“I’ve told him what it feels like when it is full,” Frodo admitted, “but not all I’ve just said to you.”
Elrond’s son thought as he began cleansing the area over the boil. “I think,” he advised slowly, “that I should summon my father and have you tell him this. I do not think that whatever it is that is within the wound is necessarily good to allow to remain there, no matter how delicate the area is for probing. And he would be far better at finding and removing whatever is caught in there without causing further injury than I am.”
But Frodo’s voice was firm. “No! No, I do not wish to tempt fate further than I have already. To return to the Shire a cripple, unable to move easily on my own, would be more than I could bear, and at the moment all I truly wish is to return home and—and to find myself again. I feel as if I have lost so much of who I am or ever have been.” He turned his whole torso to look up into Elrohir’s eyes, and the expression in his own was now so earnest that the healer in him could deny the Hobbit nothing. “Please, Elrohir, please just drain the boil and let it be. Let me go home and be just Frodo Baggins of Bag End once more. I have had more than my fill of being the Ringbearer and this stranger, Lord Iorhael. I do not wish to be bedbound and be required to submit to the ministrations of others for the remainder of my life.”
Elrohir swallowed, and unwillingly indicated his intention to submit to Frodo’s request. “If you so will it, Master Baggins,” he said quietly, and once he had his face masked with gauze he continued to wash the skin, then pressed a hot compress over it to ready it for lancing.
The compress itself caused the skin to open and the matter beneath it to begin draining. The peredhel knew well enough that the draining of the pus itself caused little if any discomfort—indeed it should be relieving Frodo of a good deal of pressure. But when he sought to express the last of it he suspected that Frodo would experience a fair amount of pain. He only hoped that he could somehow cause the object that served as an irritant to come out, too. But if it was indeed deep between the edges of the rounded bones that protected the spinal cord he knew it was unlikely to come out without probing. Still he tried his best once the majority of the matter was cleansed away to force whatever it was to surface, but it would not come.
Through it all Frodo sat stoically, refusing to cry out or shy away. When at last Elrohir, shaking his head in disappointment, removed his hands and began to cleanse them, Frodo again turned to look up at him, obviously as disappointed as was the healer at the failure to remove whatever it was that was caught inside the spider bite, but also accepting that this was only to be expected. “Thank you, Elrohir. I appreciate that you wish to remove the thing, but it is apparently too stubborn to allow itself to be pressured out of there. Just leave it be. It will most likely do little if anything for at least the next two months.”
The peredhel nodded, and once more cleansed the wound first with the infusion of athelas and then with spirits, knowing that his ministrations were plainly causing the wound to burn, but hoping against hope that he was managing to kill all within the opening so that it would not fill again. At last he laid two spent athelas leaves against the wound and carefully wrapped bandages to hold them in place, doing his best to make certain that the bandages would not be easily visible under the Hobbit’s clothing. “Return to me in the morning,” he said, “and I will change the dressing and see to whether it needs to be drained again.”
“Thank you,” Frodo said, accepting his help in restoring his former state of dress. “I will return. And thank you also,” he added, “for agreeing not to speak of this to anyone else, or at least not while I remain here in your father’s house. I will see you tomorrow morning, if we do not encounter one another before that.”
He slipped gracefully to the floor. Elrohir remembered how beautifully Frodo had danced at the wedding of Aragorn and Arwen, and felt grief that Frodo had indicated he would never dance again, that he simply no longer had the stamina for it. Arda had lost one who had displayed a great gift in his younger years, and as Frodo left the Healers Wing, the younger son of Elrond found himself praying that in time the Ringbearer would heal fully once more and be able to once again express his joy in life through dance and the free movement of his body.
And he wished he’d been allowed to use fine tongs to probe that wound and remove whatever foul thing there was that dwelt at the heart of it, for he was certain that it was a good part of why Frodo had so little stamina now compared to what he’d known until he’d been bitten by Ungoliant’s get.
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