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The Honorary Hobbit Chapter 9
He walked for some time inhaling the wet air and savoring the feel of the cold rain on his face. He hadn’t lied when he had told Sam that he needed a breath of air. The cave had become close and confining while his worry over Aragorn had begun to test his sanity. He pulled up his hood covering his already drenched body and stopped, looking down over the trees below that had been their lunch site three days prior. Had it really only been three days? It seemed a week or more had passed since Aragorn’s accident. Low lying clouds had socked in the vale leaving only tree tops peeking through appearing like so many islands adrift in a sea of cotton.
He sighed as a slow tear eased its way down his cheek. Aragorn was going to die and he knew he was to blame. If only he had listened more to his Aunt Zelpha as she had prattled on about the various plants and how they could be prepared to bring out their healing characteristics. He could think of nothing else that could be done to save his friend. He was, by nature, a hobbit that took charge and generally was successful in most of his endeavors. To fail so spectacularly, causing the death or at the very least, exacerbation of Aragorn’s condition, was frustrating beyond belief and a bitter pill to swallow.
A noise startled him from his reverie and he swung his head around seeing a lone rabbit watching him intently. He slowly crouched, picking up a stone, rose and let it fly before the coney had any chance of springing away. The stone collided with the rabbit’s temple, killing it instantly. Frodo walked over and stared down at the small ball of fur, overcome with revulsion for what he had just done. He picked the rabbit up by its ears and resumed his slow stroll. Aragorn had planned on hunting and providing for them no doubt, and obviously could not do so now. Frodo decided fresh meat would go a long way towards appeasing an unhappy Samwise Gamgee and would provide a pleasant addition to their supper. He continued to walk along the rim of rocks, long lost from sight of the cave. His foot slipped a little and he chided himself to be more careful. Another noise and again, he whipped his head around. Another rabbit sitting upright on its haunches and sniffing the air was some twenty feet away. Frodo was sheltered behind some low brush and the rabbit had not seen him as he bent and scooped up another rock. As he turned to throw his left foot slipped out from under him and with a small cry, he lost his balance and fell, sliding over the huge rock face and down into a boulder strewn gully. He lay there a long time, assessing his condition. Thankfully, nothing seemed to be broken although he had numerous scrapes on his legs and a particularly nasty, raw patch on his forehead. ‘Wonderful,’ he thought imagining the hovering and clucking this would induce in Sam. He rolled to his right and attempted to stand, crying out before he could stop himself. He covered his mouth as tears of pain rolled down his cheeks. He had landed harder than he thought apparently, jarring his wounded left shoulder. The wound throbbed with the beat of his heart as he took in deep breathes attempting to control the pain. After some time he stood slowly, taking an unsteady step as his head swam. The arm hurt abominably and he slowly moved his forearm to his chest to take off the weight. He gradually regained his composure and as the vertigo eased he decided it was time to head back to the cave. He had promised Sam wood for the fire so he began to accumulate various branches and tender as he walked. His left arm useless and his right arm overburdened, he finally stopped, laid the wood aside and removed his cloak, fashioning it into a make shift sling. He piled the wood on top of it, throwing the rabbit in last, gathered up the sides and began moving towards Sam, Aragorn and the fire. He was soaked through in a matter of moments but paid it no mind. He continued to gather pieces of wood as he looked around hoping to see another rabbit. Not seeing any, he finally arrived back at the cave.
As he approached the mouth of the cave he saw a pale and worried Samwise scowling at him. Sighing wearily, he braced himself for the tongue lashing he knew was to come.
“Hullo Sam,” he said lamely.
“Come inside and sit by the fire, Mr. Frodo, and I’ll see to your scrapes,” Sam said angrily.
Frodo did as he was told knowing that any argument would be futile and unwise. As he sat on the ground Sam rummaged in Frodo’s pack withdrawing a pair of dry breaches, undershorts, and a shirt. He then pulled his own pack over and retrieved a large flannel shirt from its endless depths.
“Here, change into these sir,” the gardener said softly and leaving no room for argument.
Shivering, Frodo changed his clothes and sat back down as Sam pushed a hot mug of tea into his hand.
“Really Sam, I am fine. I just slipped a little. I did get some wood and even a coney for supper,” Frodo tried.
“I think it would be best, sir, if we didn’t speak because I’m that angry with you, I am,” Sam said evenly.
Frodo opened his mouth to make another attempt at explanation then closed it with a snap. It was no use, it would only irritate Sam all the more if he acted like a plaintive child. So he sat there, sipping his tea as Sam dabbed at and finally bandaged his forehead. Frodo didn’t make a sound even though the cleaning and bandaging hurt terribly, knowing it would only make Sam fuss more.
“How is Aragorn?” Frodo asked quietly.
“While you were gone” (gone being emphasized) “he had a bit of a fit.”
Frodo’s eyes darted up at him, “What do you mean ‘a fit’, Sam?” He asked panicked.
“He had a con-vul-tion, Mr. Frodo—I think that’s what they call it. I turned him on his side after and he threw up. I been cooling him off ever since. He seems a bit outta his head, talking’ about you and how we need to hurry to Rivendell, then changing to mumbles about something in Elvish. He seems to be settlin’ down some since I put those cool cloths all over him,” Sam said matter of factly.
“Oh Sam, I am so sorry. I didn’t mean for you to have to be alone in what must have been a truly frightening situation. I should have come back sooner,” Frodo said earnestly.
Sam dropped his head, “You shouldn’t have gone at all, Mr. Frodo, but what’s done is done. As for Mr. Strider, I’ve helped tend Marigold and Daisy when they was sick and can hold my own with high fevers and such.” He rose without waiting for a response and went to Aragorn’s side.
Frodo hung his head in defeat. Sam was angrier than he had at first thought and it would take time for that anger to dissipate. “We should try and get him to take some medicine and food,” Frodo said softly.
Sam only nodded then slowly raised Aragorn to almost sitting and slipped behind him to support the man. Frodo moved to the fire and retrieved the tea and stew that had been sitting to the side being kept warm. He knelt beside Aragorn, setting the cups aside and leaned forward, gently tapping the Ranger’s face. Aragorn’s eyes flew open and he grabbed Frodo roughly by the arms. Frodo cried out in surprise and pain as the man gave him a vicious shake.
“Are you mad? They will come now, you have drawn them to you, you fool!” Aragorn shouted.
“Aragorn, please,” Frodo whispered.
Hearing the pain in Frodo’s voice, Aragorn loosed his grip and Frodo fell forward onto the Ranger’s chest panting heavily. “I meant no harm, Master Baggins, I apologize. But your situation is most dire now,” Aragorn mumbled.
Frodo slowly eased himself up and Sam could see that all color had fled his Master’s face leaving him a ghastly gray. Sam looked at him wide eyed and Frodo attempted a smile to reassure the gardener that he was all right, which failed miserably. Aragorn’s eyes had closed again and he was moving his head back and forth while he mumbled to himself in Elvish.
“Aragorn,” Frodo called softly.
The Ranger’s eyes cracked open and he slowly looked around the cave. “Where are we?” his voice cracked.
“We are camped by the Bruinen,” Frodo lied easily.
Aragorn’s eyes settled on Frodo. “Are you well?”
“I am, but we need to eat and drink something warming so that we may journey on to Rivendell.”
“I need nothing, we can leave at once. We must hurry! He is passing into the shadow world!” Aragorn yelled to Sam.
A shiver crawled up Frodo’s spine and the hair rose on his neck, “No Aragorn, we are all weary and you must eat as well as the others. I won’t eat unless you do,” Frodo added knowing it would have the desired effect. It had been difficult to take any nourishment during the desperate race to Elrond, without immediately ejecting it.
“Very well,” the Ranger sighed. Before Aragorn could change his mind, Frodo spooned the tea between his lips, followed by the soup.
“Do you need the privy, Aragorn?”
Aragorn gave him a queer look, “I don’t see as that’s any of your concern, Mr. Baggins,” he said sharply wondering at such an odd question.
Frodo couldn’t help smiling. It *was* an odd thing to ask since the Ranger was picturing himself in good health camped with four hobbits, one deathly ill. “I only ask because the sound of the water makes me want to go,” Frodo whispered. “I won’t be gone long,” Frodo added.
“No, you must not go alone,” Aragorn said, grabbing Frodo’s left arm and causing the hobbit to yelp in pain.
“Very well, why don’t you come with me then,” Frodo whispered shakily.
Aragorn released Frodo and Frodo retrieved the cup being used as a urinal. He tugged down the Ranger’s leggings and positioned the cup so that it would catch the man’s stream. It was some moments before Aragorn relaxed enough to void. Once he was finished, Frodo sat the cup aside and redressed him, and then rose slowly. He staggered as vertigo assailed him before straightening and marching resolutely to the cave mouth to dump the contents in the rain. He walked slowly back to Aragorn’s side and knelt down. Sam studied his Master worriedly.
“All right, Sam, lower him down slowly please,” Frodo whispered wearily.
When Sam looked into the face of the Ranger he saw that the man’s eyes were open and staring up at him. There were tears pooled in the gray depths. “Sam,” Aragorn said softly, reaching up and grasping the front of Sam’s shirt with surprising strength. “Forgive me, please,” he said.
“Now, forgive you for what, Mr. Strider. You haven’t done ought to be sorry for, sir,” Sam said soothingly as he tucked the blankets about the man’s shoulders. He looked over at Frodo and saw his Master watching and waiting for Aragorn to finish.
“I had to. He would have taken It to Sauron, he would have become a wraith like them, and Sauron would have tortured him—forever he would have been under the Dark Lord’s influence. He would have experienced agony beyond the comprehension of any living thing in Middle Earth, suffering beyond belief. I had to do it, had to…make it quick, had to end his suffering to save him.” The man’s strength failed him and he fell back onto the blankets, his eyes closing. “Forgive me, I did not want to do it,” he whispered.
Sam sat stunned, moving slowly back from the Ranger. He looked quickly over at Frodo *hoping*, by some miracle, that his Master hadn’t heard.
Frodo’s face had become ashen and he was visibly shaking. He stared at Aragorn as he reached up and took the Ring in his right hand, covering it in a white knuckled fist.
“Come rest by the fire, Master,” Sam whispered, helping Frodo up and walking the few paces to the blaze, settling Frodo on the ground. He laid a blanket over Frodo’s shoulders as his Master stared blankly into the dancing flames.
Sam wrung out some cloths in a pot of lukewarm water and carried them to Aragorn’s side. He peeled back the blankets and removed the rags he had covered the man in earlier. He noted that they had dried, so great was the heat coming off of the Ranger. He felt Strider’s forehead and thought that the man was slightly cooler. Encouraged, he spread the new cloths over the man’s torso and laid one on the broad forehead. Strider sighed, feeling the coolness even in his delirium. Sam knew that above all else, Frodo would want to be left alone to think on all that Aragorn had said, so Sam busied himself about the camp, never letting Frodo or Aragorn out of his sight. He walked to where Frodo had dropped the wood, picked up the rabbit and quickly skinned off the soft fur and gutted it. He went outside briefly to bury the entrails some distance from the cave. He quickly returned, quartered the rabbit and skewered it onto long sticks which he balanced over the coals. He went back to the pile of wood and began moving it to the fire, stacking it neatly. Finally, he retrieved Frodo’s cloak and wet clothing and laid it over rocks near the fire to dry. He ground his teeth together as he wrung each item out, irritated anew at his Master’s foolhardiness. ‘Probably get a nasty cold for it,’ he thought. He went back to the fire, picked up a frying pan and began slicing up potatoes and onions. He set them in the skillet which he placed to the side, waiting for the rabbit to be done. Through all his deliberations he thought of all that Strider had said. ‘He wouldn’ta done it,’ he thought to himself. ‘Ain’t no way he’d a hurt Mr. Frodo.’ Still, even the thought of it brought tears to Sam’s eyes and he swiped unobtrusively at his face to erase any evidence of his crying.
Once the rabbit was done, Sam fried up the potatoes and funneled a healthy portion onto a plate for Frodo. Frodo automatically took the plate but did not eat.
“Come, Mr. Frodo, won’t you eat a bite?” Sam watched his Master tearfully. Frodo didn’t seem to hear him, continuing to stare into the fire. Sam pushed another mug of tea into Frodo’s hand and was gratified to see his Master drink it. Finally, he rose and helped the dazed hobbit to his feet. “Come, sir, you’ve had a shock to be sure and need a bit of rest,” Sam murmured. Frodo obediently allowed himself to be settled on Aragorn’s right side. Sam gently covered him with a blanket then went back to the fire, removed some of the hot rocks surrounding the blaze and wrapped them in cloth. He laid the hot rocks around his Master’s left side then stood back, staring down at his beloved Master whose eyes were now closed in sleep. It was only then that Sam walked from the area into the adjoining cave and wept in grief.
“Merry, I’m hungry and tired. When can we stop?” Pippin whined.
Merry looked about them noting the indigo night sky and decided they had walked enough for the day. “Let’s camp over there Pip, under those boughs. The campsite in question was all but dry as the pine boughs bent low to the ground, creating a small shelter underneath.
Pip smiled, “I’ll go get some firewood then we can eat,” he said, bouncing away.
Too late Merry realized that Pip still had the rabbits in his pack. “I’ll just have to wait till he gets back to get supper started, it seems,” he groused to himself.
Pippin happily filled his arms with wood, some of it too wet to use until later, thinking of roast rabbit for dinner and how terribly hungry he was. Hearing a noise behind him and assuming it was Merry he said “Silly Brandybuck, I can do this while you spread out our bedding,” he chortled. He looked around but instead of seeing Merry he saw a huge cat silhouetted by starlight, perched on a large boulder, some 20 feet away. He gasped in fear as the wood fell unheeded from his arms, “What the?” he said as he began backing away towards the campsite. The mountain lion crouched and slowly began moving towards him. Pippin had never seen anything like the huge cat. Starlight glimmered off of sharp teeth as the cat growled low in its throat, preparing to pounce.
Pip realized that he still carried the rabbits on his back and that the scent had likely drawn the huntress to him, placing him in mortal danger. He opened his mouth and screamed as loud as he could before turning and racing back towards Merry and the relative safety of their camp.
Merry almost dropped his pipe which he had just pulled from his pack, when he heard Pippin’s terse scream. “MERRY!” The hair rose on the back of his neck as he recognized this scream to be one of terror unlike his cousin’s usual screams of delighted discovery or play.
He grabbed his slingshot and rocks and made a hasty bee line towards where he had seen Pip leave the campsite. He hadn’t gone far before hearing and seeing a blur sprinting down the hill towards him. Behind Pip, Merry saw something that caused his blood to run cold and it was gaining ground quickly on his cousin. He fitted a rock into the sling and let it fly. It struck the huge cat on the forehead and she staggered a step, confused as to what had hit her. But just as quickly she resumed her pursuit, increasing her speed to catch up with Pip. Merry loosed another rock, striking her on the flank, then another made contact with her nose. Merry pulled rocks one after another quickly from his pouch as he continued to pepper the animal with hits. Abruptly the cat stopped, obviously in pain and wracked with indecision. She had, apparently, not planned on any kind of defense from these creatures and decided it was time to retreat. With a spine tingling roar of anger she turned and began running in the opposite direction. Rabbits were easy fare and defenseless compared to these small beings she decided.
Pippin was sobbing with great gulping gasps as he reached Merry. He quickly hid behind his cousin seeing the look of determination and the set of Merry’s jaw as he continued to pelt the receding hind quarters of the cat.
They stood in silence except for the heavy pants wrought by the fight or flight response, looking where the huge cat had been only moments before.
“Perhaps we should keep going, Merry. I don’t want to camp here,” Pippin said frightened.
Merry looked at his cousin and pulled him into a tight embrace, “No, Pip, I don’t think she’ll be back. Like as not she’s never seen hobbits before and didn’t know how well they would do with a sling and bag of rocks. We’re both tired and hungry. Let’s eat and rest, I’ll keep watch tonight,” he said softly. Pippin looked like he would object but Merry pulled him into a walk and they began collecting wood closer to the campsite, their eyes constantly darting about them all the while. Merry soon had a large fire blazing as he speared the rabbits for roasting, his slingshot never far from his side. After they ate, he tucked Pip into the blankets and settled himself next to him, his back against the tree. He laid his arm protectively over Pip, gently finger combing the ringlets, until his cousin fell asleep. He sat awake all night, his senses heightened as he watched the darkness.
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