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The Honorary Hobbit Chapter 7
Frodo awoke to the smell of bacon cooking. He felt abominable; his body ached all over, his shoulder worst of all. He must have slept at an odd angle at Aragorn’s side. His head felt heavy as if he was coming down with a cold. He groaned inwardly, thinking of how Sam would react if he became sick. He was dripping with sweat and wondered if he had a fever but as he wiped his face he looked over at Aragorn and discovered the real source of the perspiration. He felt Aragorn’s forehead and jerked his hand back. The Ranger was burning up. Frodo sat up suddenly and instantly regretted it as he placed all his weight on his left arm. He ground his teeth together to keep from crying out.
“Looks like someone’s finally awake!” Pippin exclaimed cheerfully.
“You should have woke me,” Frodo grumbled.
“Ooooh, someone’s a cranky old dodger,” Pippin chuckled.
Frodo clamped his jaw shut on a biting retort and began moving the blankets and coverings off of Aragorn’s leg. He carefully began unwrapping the bandage from around the wound. Before he had even revealed the break he knew his worst fears were confirmed. Bloody pus was draining from the area of the wound making the gauze damp and sticky and he could smell the odor of infection. He had failed—failed to stop Aragorn’s wounds from festering. He covered his face, feeling tears of frustration filling his eyes as his shoulders slumped in weariness. ‘Get ahold of yourself, Frodo’ he mentally scolded himself.
“Merry, could you come here, please?” he asked quietly. His back was turned to the others but he heard the rustle of someone rising and walking towards him, then he heard a hissed intake of breath. “I know... I don’t know what else to do, Merry. Aragorn is going to die because of me and my lack of knowledge,” Frodo murmured.
A hand was instantly on his shoulder and then a much loved face filled Frodo’s vision. “No Frodo, you have given him a fighting chance, not hindered him. He would have surely died by now without your care. You have done all you could have to help him and he won’t die because of your efforts.”
Frodo smiled wanly, “Yes, but he needs someone more knowledgeable than I now. I feel lost, if only those silly medical bags came with instructions.”
Merry almost laughed at the thought but reconsidered it. “Frodo, you know how much I love herb lore?” he asked sitting down next to Frodo.
“Well, I’ve been trying to learn more about some of the more common herbs---how they can be used for food or as medicine. So far all of the herbs we’ve used for Strider have been ones we knew from the Shire. What if we try some of those from around Rivendell?”
“But how will we know what the herbs are for? We could end up making things worse, Merry,” Frodo sighed.
“What about Athelas? Does Strider have any in his bag?”
Frodo’s eyes shot up at Merry, “I don’t know, I don’t even know what it looks like,” he said excitedly. “Do you?”
‘Of course Frodo wouldn’t know what the plant looked like. Last time it was used he was in no condition to notice something so minor.’ Merry thought with a shuddered. “I think so, after it worked so well for you and your wound, I started reading up on it. It seems that if we could somehow get Strider to *breath* on it, its healing powers are increased somehow. It’s almost as if it recognizes him as the King, we’ll have to wake Strider and find out I imagine,” Merry said hopefully.
“Merry, you’re brilliant! Here, look through these packets and see if any of these herbs looks like Athelas,” Frodo pushed the medical bag into Merry’s lap.
Merry began to paw through the satchel removing pouches and setting them aside as he quietly mumbled to himself. He frowned, none of the packets were Athelas.
“Nothing?” Frodo asked, sounding panicked.
“Not these. Frodo, Aragorn kept the Kingsfoil wrapped carefully, almost reverently, in a white cloth. Are there any pockets on this bag that you haven’t gone through?”
Frodo’s eyes widened, “There is a buckled pouch…yes, here on the outside of the bag.” His fingers clawed at the clasp until it gave way and they looked inside the pocket. A carefully folded white handkerchief lay within. Frodo gave a small cry and his eyes lit up. Merry smiled as he slowly withdrew the cloth and deliberately spread the handkerchief open on his lap. Four long leaves of Athelas lay within the folds.
Frodo sighed in relief, ‘This has to work’ he thought to himself. He looked over at Aragorn and wondered what the healer would do were he in Frodo’s place. He fervently wished with all his heart that it was he lying injured and feverish on the pallet and that the capable hands of the Ranger were healing him instead. ‘Little chance of that’ he thought.
Frodo inched his way up to Aragorn’s head and gently began tapping the Ranger on the face, but received no response. “Merry, he’s so hot—can you get me some cool water so we can sponge him down? Oh, and the water skin as well, I imagine he’ll be thirsty.”
Merry retrieved the requested items and handed them to Frodo. After dipping a cloth in the water and wringing it out, Frodo began to wash Aragorn’s face and neck. Aragorn moaned and licked at his lips and Merry carefully lifted the man’s shoulders while Frodo gave Aragorn a trickle of water to drink. The Ranger’s eyes crept open and seeing the offered water, he drank greedily, locking eyes with Frodo.
“Aragorn, your leg is badly infected could we use the Athelas in some way to stop the infection?” Frodo’s voice shook.
Aragorn studied Frodo’s face and could see how frightened the hobbit was. “Yes”, he croaked. “You could make a poultice and lay it over the bone to draw out the infection,” he said slowly. His eyes started to close and Frodo tapped his face lightly to keep the man awake.
“Could you…er…*breathe* on it for us?” At first Aragorn looked confused but then his face broke into a broad grin.
“Yes, I could, it might help. Afterwards you’ll need to crumble the leaves in a basin of warm water. Then dip a cloth in the basin, wring it out very well, then fold it and lay it over the break. You will need to do this at least once every hour to see if it helps,” Aragorn murmured.
Frodo nodded then opened the handkerchief and held the leaves under Aragorn’s mouth. Aragorn closed his eyes and whispered something under his breath, and then he exhaled on the leaves. He sighed, his head dipping forward, clearly exhausted by even that small effort, and Merry slowly lowered him back down to the pallet.
“Sam, do you have any warm water?” Frodo called.
“Aye, Mr. Frodo, I was going to make tea with it, sir.” The gardener poured some of the water into another pan and brought it over to Frodo.
“Thank you, Sam,” Frodo said absently. He separated two of the leaves from the cloth, crushed them and dropped them into the water. A clean, sharp scent rose up towards them and all, including Aragorn, visibly relaxed.
“Wondrous stuff, that. Won’t never call it a weed again, and that’s a fact,” Sam said.
Frodo dipped the cloth in the water and struggled to wring it out. Finally, he handed the cloth to Merry, who looked at him questioningly. “I can’t wring it out thoroughly, Merry, it needs to be just damp,” Frodo said looking down.
“Oh…no problem, Frodo.” Merry wrung out the rest of the liquid into the pan and handed it back to Frodo. Frodo folded it and laid it over the area of the broken bone. He stared at it, as if willing it to magically cure the wound.
“He’s filthy and if he’s anything like me, he must be miserably uncomfortable in all that sweat,” Frodo said to know one in particular. He rose, went to the fire, and soon returned with another small pan with hot water, a towel and some cool water to mix with the hot. As Merry watched, Frodo carefully exposed Aragorn’s right arm, washed it, dried it and then recovered it so the Ranger wouldn’t become chilled. He repeated this with the left arm and then, after Merry unlaced the man’s shirt, he washed Aragorn’s chest and torso, then dried the area and re-laced the shirt. He pulled the covers back up to the man’s chin. Frodo looked at the broken leg. It was covered in bloody exudate and grime; blood had dried in the hair. They had cut the leggings up to the thigh and Frodo began washing there, working his way down the leg, repeatedly rinsing the cloth and having Merry wring it out. He was careful not to get the Athelas poultice wet. When he finished the water was almost black and he rose, walked to the mouth of the cave and dumped it. He refilled the pan with warm water and washed Aragorn’s face, neck and hands before setting the rag aside. Merry spread a clean towel lightly over the leg and pulled the blankets over their friend. Aragorn frowned in his sleep, even the slightest pressure on the wound was painful.
“I need to feed and dose him then I’ll let him rest,” Frodo murmured then looked over at Merry. “Thank you, Merry for your quick thinking and for just being there for me,” he said with a small smile.
Merry smiled and patted Frodo on the shoulder as he stood,” You would have thought of it yourself eventually, but I’m glad to be of any help I can, cousin.”
Frodo slowly rose, feeling every ache and pain in his body screaming for attention. He schooled his features and gave Aragorn one last glance. He jumped, startled to see the Ranger’s eyes open and fixed on him. Frodo attempted a smile but Aragorn did not smile back.
“You fool me not, Frodo Baggins, I can see you are unwell, perhaps Master Gamgee would care to be let in on your little secret,” Aragorn whispered with a glint in his eye.
“Sam and all are well aware of my trifling aches and pains, Aragorn, and I’ll have you know that I am perfectly capable of telling them should I need assistance. I am not a child and hobbits are sturdier than you give them credit,” Frodo said archly.
“That may be, my friend, but if you do not tell Sam, I will,” Aragorn said threateningly before his eyes slowly closed.
The stubbornness in Frodo reared its ugly head and he straightened his shoulders and gave the Ranger a disparaging look. ‘We shall just see about that, Aragorn’ he thought.
He turned and walked the few steps to the fire and sat down next to Pippin.
“I’ve kept your breakfast warm, Mr. Frodo,” Sam said cheerfully as he handed a plate to his Master. Frodo took it with a smile and looked down at the contents. His stomach rolled as he told Sam how delicious it smelled. Sam beamed a grateful smile at him. Bacon, eggs…’now however did Sam manage to bring eggs?’ Frodo mused, tomatoes and sliced peaches with tea to round out the meal. He sipped his tea as he nibbled on a piece of bacon. He managed to finish half of the meal under Sam’s watchful gaze, before he gave up any pretense of hunger and set the plate aside. Sam scowled at the offending plate, but said nothing.
“We need to talk about our plans for the day,” Frodo said softly. Pippin and Merry looked up from their meal expectantly; Sam was still scowling at Frodo’s discarded plate.
“Merry, Pip, do you think you can find your way back to the Last Homely House?”
Pip looked at Merry who nodded to Frodo. “Without any trouble,” Merry said around a mouth full of tomato.
Frodo nodded, “Good, we’ll split the supplies and you’ll need your blankets,” he glanced over at Aragorn.
Merry looked at Aragorn, “Strider needs them more than we do, we can share one, and with the heavy cloaks that Elrond gave us and a fire, we’ll be fine, Frodo.”
Frodo hesitated then gave Merry a nod. “I don’t want you trying to make it back in one day or some such nonsense, Merry, rest at night, promise me,” Frodo fixed a stare on his two cousins.
“Don’t be concerned, Frodo, we’ll rest but we can travel more than ten miles a day which is what Aragorn had us doing. That was a leisurely pace at best,” Merry didn’t add that the pace had obviously been set with Frodo in mind as Elrond and Strider hadn’t wanted to tax his cousin’s strength.
Frodo frowned, “That sounds acceptable as long as you stop, camp and rest,” he murmured.
“Little chance of us going full on, Cousin, after all we *do* need to eat,” Pippin harrumphed. Frodo, Merry and Sam smiled. Leave it to Pip to think of food.
“Sam, I’ll need some tea and broth for Aragorn.” He winced, “Let’s make the tea a bit weaker this time. I do want him to drink it after all. Add some of that willow, maybe we can bring his fever down some. If you have any honey you might want to add a large dollop.”
Sam smiled, “Aye, sir, I’ve got the broth warming, I’ll jes’ see to the tea now.” Sam retrieved a pot, added water and set it on the coals. When the water was hot, Sam added the herbs that they’d used the night before plus some willow leaves, and then he covered the pot to let it steep.
Once the broth and tea were ready they all settled at Aragorn’s side. Merry slipped behind the man and very slowly, raised the Ranger to a near sitting position. Aragorn groaned as he slowly opened his eyes.
Frodo leaned forward, “We need to feed you and give you some medicine, Aragorn.” Aragorn’s stomach lurched at the thought of the previous night’s vile tea. Frodo smiled, seeing the Ranger’s grimace. “Sam has made the tea less potent this time, so don’t be concerned. I wondered…can Athelas be used as a tea? Can it be swallowed or is it only for topical use?”
Aragorn nodded, “It is bitter but as long as it is diluted and drinkable,” he gave Frodo a pointed glare and Frodo grinned back at him, “it can be a powerful medicine.”
Frodo nodded, he tested the temperature of the tea and then added some of the diluted Athelas water to it until it was cool enough to drink. He began to slowly spoon the tea into Aragorn’s mouth who grimaced but swallowed dutifully. Finally Aragorn reached up, took the cup, and drank the medicine down in one gulp. He shuddered. Frodo smiled, and then taking the broth, began to feed it to the Ranger. Aragorn was grateful for Sam’s cooking skills as he drank the rich broth by spoonfuls. “Very good, Sam,” he murmured.
Sam smiled from where he was washing the dishes by the fire and gave Aragorn a nod. “Thank’ee kindly, Mr. Strider,” he said quietly.
“Sam, I think you and I need to have a chat,” Aragorn whispered. Frodo tensed knowing what the ‘chat’ would entail.
“Pardon me, Mr. Strider?” Sam hadn’t been able to hear the whispered request.
“I think some poppy would be a good idea now, don’t you Merry?” Merry frowned and looked between the Ranger and his cousin. There was obviously something going on between the two that he didn’t know about.
Frodo quickly found the jar and when Aragorn opened his mouth to object, slipped a finger-full under the Man’s tongue. Aragorn gave him a thunderous glare as Frodo smiled smugly. “Let’s change that bandage on your head, Aragorn,” Frodo said sweetly. He carefully unwound the bandage and studied the purple knot and gash. He wrung out a cloth and washed the wound, then patted it dry before re-bandaging it.
Aragorn’s eyes were beginning to close, “Sam,” he called. Sam walked over to his side as Frodo rose nervously.
“Yes Mr. Strider?” Sam asked, curious. He knelt down next to the Ranger and leaned closely over the man’s face to hear him better.
“Frodo…you need to watch…he’s...” then Strider’s eyes closed against his will.
Sam smiled and leaned over the man, whispering in his ear, “I know, Mr. Strider, I’ll take care of him, sir.” Aragorn smiled slowly as he slipped into a dreamless sleep. Frodo’s expression was livid, but he turned, pulled his cloak tightly around himself and pretended he hadn’t heard the traitorous Ranger as he crossed to the fire. He poured himself a cup of tea and sat calmly down to watch the blaze. Sam joined him and Merry slowly lowered the man back down, covered him and then he and Pip joined the two.
“What was that all about?” Pippin asked.
“Nothing, I think Aragorn’s slightly delirious,” Frodo said flatly. Sam’s eyebrows shot up as he busied his hands with drying the dishes.
“Well, we should be off,” Merry said abruptly. He and Pip rose and began to gather their belongings. Sam separated enough of the food stuffs to keep even Pippin content and divided it equally between Merry and Pippin’s packs. Next, Sam rolled one of the heavier blankets up and lashed it to the bottom of Merry’s pack. Merry and Pip donned their cloaks and Frodo and Sam helped them into their packs. They walked as a group to the mouth of the cave. Frodo’s face was worried, “Be careful. It will be slippery going and stay to the trees and make sure to dry out your cloaks by the fire before you sleep and…”
“Yes cousin,” Merry said with a grin, “you needn’t worry Frodo, truly. It’s no further than Buckland is from Hobbiton, if that. We’ll be fine, you just take care of each other,” Merry gave Sam a look that spoke volumes and Sam gave him a quick nod in return. “And take care of Strider,” he added. He and Pip turned and walked out of the cave into the pouring rain. Sam and Frodo watched them carefully climb down the rock rim and before they headed into the trees, the two raised their hands in farewell. Frodo hesitantly waved back, the worry and concern for his cousins warring with the need to get help for Aragorn clearly etched on his face. Then they were gone and he and Sam turned and went back into the cave.
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