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My apologies for this being a bit late. I've been trying to update once a week, but well...who knows what's going on, my muse basically gave me the finger and disappeared.
The next morning, as the elves moved silently about the cave gathering their provisions and readying for departure, Elrond softly touched Frodo on the shoulder. Frodo startled in alarm and Elrond stilled him with a touch, reassuring him that nothing was amiss.
“Good marrow, Frodo. We are preparing to depart but before we do I would have you soak in the hot pool.”
Frodo began to object, but with a glance at Elrond’s expression, decided to relent. He rose slowly and Elrond reached out to steady him. He straightened and walked carefully to the hot pool. He undressed and slipped into the warm water, instantly thankful he had foregone the argument. As Elrond stood beside the pool he inquired as to how Frodo was feeling.
“I am still a bit stiff and sore but the warm water will help with that, I should imagine,” he said drowsily.
“It will be some time before we reach Rivendell so you need to take advantage of this opportunity while it is available. I will tend to Aragorn while you soak. Please try not to drown while I am thus occupied,” Elrond said softly.
Frodo smiled as he slipped deeper into the water. He did feel sleepy, lulled by the warmth, but did not see how it would be possible to drown in one’s own bath. He looked over towards the fire. Sam was working hard, using the larger pots and pans that the elves had brought with them, preparing a mountain of food for the group’s breakfast. Frodo wondered at what time Sam had awoken in order to start the morning meal as he sniffed appreciatively at the aromas filling the cave. Frodo then looked over towards Aragorn and saw Gandalf sitting close to the Ranger, talking quietly. He saw the two elves smoothly move the Ranger onto his back, slip behind him and raise him into a semi-sitting position. Elrond tapped the Ranger’s face gently until Aragorn’s eyes opened. Elrond said something Frodo could not hear, before beginning to feed the medicinal tea to his foster son. All the while Gandalf talked softly and Aragorn would turn his head occasionally and stare at the Istari in interest. Frodo then glanced towards the nest of blankets where his cousins still slept. All he could see was one furry foot protruding out from the covers that marked where they lay. Frodo smiled knowing that soon the scents emanating from Sam’s cook pots would bring them to full wakefulness. He closed his eyes and leaned back against the rim of the pool, satisfied that all was as it should be and dozed as his aching body began to relax.
A splash of water in his face jarred Frodo fully awake and he looked around irritably. “Pippin, whatever are you doing?” He growled.
“Saving your life, my elderly cousin,” Pippin giggled. “You fell asleep you silly Baggins, and slipped down to your chin into this lovely hot pool. Sam has a delicious breakfast waiting, but you had better hurry or Merry will have eaten it all,” Pip continued. Frodo groaned as he stood and shivered violently in the cold cave air. Pip was instantly at his side helping him from the pool and briskly rubbing him with warmed towels.
Frodo smiled, “Ah, warm towels too, I could get used to this, but I am quite capable of drying myself, Pippin!”
“I warmed them by the fire,” Pip said with a grin. Frodo was touched by the gesture. “If we don’t get you dried and dressed we’ll miss out on breakfast,” Pip murmured trying to explain what he was doing. Secretly, Pippin worried Frodo would get chilled and that the chest cold that had taken hold of his cousin, could turn into something far more serious. He couldn’t help noticing how frail and thin Frodo looked as he worriedly dressed his cousin into as many layers of clothing that he had been able to scrounged together.
Frodo smiled at his cousin, not fooled for one moment as to why Pip was fawning over him. “Thank you, Pip, I feel quite relaxed and warm now. Let’s go eat before Merry goes back for seconds, shall we?” Pippin beamed at him as they found seats around the fire and Sam placed steaming plates of eggs, bacon and fruit in their laps.
He added cups of tea with a smile, “Mornin’, Mr. Frodo,” he said cheerily.
“Good morning, Sam, this looks delicious, thank you,” Frodo said with a warm smile as Sam blushed at the praise. “Are we the last to eat?” Frodo asked, looking around. The elves had stacked the dirty plates by the fire and were talking quietly amongst themselves as they continued to organize their belongings.
“Yessir, even Mr. Merry’s eaten. Lord Elrond said we could feed Mr. Strider a bit of runny oatmeal this morning” he frowned, “but he won’t let me add any dried fruit to it.”
“That’s wonderful, Sam!” Frodo exclaimed. “I am sure it will taste delicious even without the fruit and at least it’s not stew,” Frodo smiled. He looked over towards Aragorn and saw Gandalf slowly feeding his friend the gruel. Merry was rolling up their blankets and gathering up their few belongings. Frodo ate with gusto, feeling as if he hadn’t eaten in days then realized he really hadn’t eaten that much since the accident.
“No, give me some privacy for Eru’s sake!” Frodo heard as he turned and saw Aragorn trying to feebly bat away Elrond and Gandalf. Both the elf Lord and Maia were unsuccessfully trying to talk the Ranger into something, it appeared.
Frodo sat his plate down and walked over to Aragorn’s side, kneeling down near the man’s head. “What is it, Aragorn?” he whispered.
Aragorn looked up at Elrond and Gandalf then at Frodo, “I was going to use the privy but they insist on watching me, Frodo. I think that you should go with me … I do not wish to leave you unprotected,” Aragorn said seriously, shooting a suspicious look at the Maia and the elf.
Were it any other time, Frodo would have laughed but he schooled his face to reflect concern. “I *would* feel safer with you, Aragorn.” He waved Elrond and Gandalf away and motioned to Sam and Merry. Merry brought the pan and Sam some hot water and a cloth. Aragorn had been repositioned on his other side so there was no need to move him.
Aragorn looked around then motioned to Frodo who leaned over the Ranger’s face and listened, “Are they gone, Frodo?” whispered the Ranger.
Frodo grinned widely, “It’s just us hobbits, Aragorn.… which do you need to do first?” Frodo giggled.
“Why would they want to watch? It is completely unseemly,” Aragorn whispered.
Frodo could not control his laughter, imagining what Aragorn must have *thought* he was seeing, “Mr. Strider’s not never goin’ to live this one down,” Sam snickered. Frodo wiped his eyes and looked up seeing the other hobbits grinning above them.
Frodo situated the pan and said with a grin “We’re ready, my friend”. Aragorn smiled up at him when he heard the endearment. Thankfully, Elrond had insured that there would not be a repeat of Aragorn’s previous problems and had given him a tonic along with sips of water whenever he was awake. Frodo was relieved that the Ranger had no problems relieving himself this time. Merry took the pan and left to dump it outside. Sam handed his Master a warm, wrung out cloth and Frodo washed Aragorn’s backside gently. Frodo handed the rag back to Sam as Sam handed him the cup which Frodo then held for Aragorn. “Go ahead, Aragorn,” he whispered.
After Aragorn had finished he reached up and touched Frodo’s face, “Thank you Frodo for your understanding and for making those other two men leave,” the Ranger said seriously before closing his eyes. Frodo smiled down at Aragorn and ran his hand through the man’s hair.
“You are most welcome, my friend,” he whispered. Sam took the cup and headed for the cave opening. “Do you feel better, Aragorn?” Frodo asked quietly knowing the Ranger was still awake.
“Yes, much, thank you,” Aragorn said without opening his eyes. “I had the strangest dream about you, but it isn’t something I will retell.” He looked up at Frodo, “I will only say that I am relieved to see you unharmed.” He closed his eyes and Frodo felt a chill go up his spine.
“We have one more task to complete before we depart,” Elrond said quietly from behind Frodo. He had been watching the interaction of the two from some feet away. He held up a large square cloth.
Frodo frowned at it in confusion, then the realization of what it was hit him like a lightning bolt and his mouth dropped open. “He will never let you,” Frodo exclaimed.
“I agree, but he might let *you*,” Gandalf chuckled.
Frodo rolled his eyes and mused as to how he would accomplish this feat. An idea came to him and he smiled as he gently tapped Aragorn’s face to wake him.
Aragorn’s opened his eyes grumpily, then seeing it was Frodo, relaxed. “Frodo, is all well? I must have dozed off, is Merry still standing watch?”
Merry spoke up, “Yes Aragorn and all is quiet,” he said. Frodo shot him a grateful smile and Merry gave him a nod. This seemed to calm Aragorn and he leaned back with a sigh, closing his eyes.
“Aragorn, Sam has made you something,” the Ringbearer lied. “It is made to be worn under your clothing and if you will allow me, I would like to put it on you,” he added.
Aragorn looked blearily at Frodo and Sam. “What is it for, Sam?”
Caught off guard, Sam fumbled for an answer. “Uhh…well, we hobbits wear them for .. er.. protection, Mr. Strider,” he blushed furiously and Frodo had to look down to conceal a smile.
Aragorn frowned, “You wear them *under* your clothes, Samwise?”
“Yessir, they’re sorta secret protection, if you take my meanin’,” he stammered.
Aragorn didn’t know if he took Sam’s ‘meaning’ at all. “Are you wearing this garment now?” he asked. Sam blushed almost purple before grabbing the waist of his short pants and pulled them up so Aragorn could see them over the top of his breeches. Aragorn stared at the edge of the cream colored linen cloth. “Men do not wear such things under their clothing.”
Frodo quickly stepped in to rescue the situation before Aragorn could say no. “We worry about your safety, Aragorn. What will happen to us if something happens to you?” Frodo urgently whispered.
Aragorn watched Frodo’s face seeing the fear in the Ringbearer’s eyes, he nodded. Frodo exhaled in relief and, with Gandalf’s help, pulled the Ranger’s leggings down. Frodo situated the cloth beneath the man’s hips and up between his legs. Pins were fastened attaching the ends together at the hips into the triangle shaped nappy. Then the leggings we resituated. Frodo looked into Aragorn’s face but the Ranger’s eyes had closed in exhaustion and he was sleeping soundly.
Frodo rose slowly, coughed harshly and walked away towards the fire.
“A moment, Master Baggins.”
Frodo stiffened, knowing what was coming. Elrond silently rose and walked up behind him, steering him towards a small group of elves. “You will need to drink this ere we leave,” the elf Lord said simply. He nodded to two elves that came towards him, one holding a lovely rose colored vial.
“May I ask what it contains?” Frodo asked wearily.
“Of course, this is the blackberry treacle we gave to my son this morning although as with his, I have added additional ingredients specific to your particular malady.”
“It is but a cold,” Frodo sighed.
“Perhaps, but I aim to ensure it stays a cold and does not become something more …aggressive.”
Frodo took the vial, smelled it, and then drank it down. He smiled in surprise. “That was delicious, Lord Elrond! If only all of your tonics were so tasty,” Frodo said with a wink. Elrond smiled, eyebrows arched then walked away. Only after he had left did Frodo realize that the elf Lord hadn’t told him the ingredients.
After Elrond had given Aragorn his medicine and the Ranger was padded, braced with blankets and towels and sleeping soundly (a benefit of one of the added ingredients to the tonic), the elf Lord gathered his contingent to him with a look. “We will be departing shortly. Gather your supplies and belongings and meet at the mouth of the cave. We will need to move swiftly while shielding Aragorn from as much jostling as possible.” All moved towards the mouth of the cave as the hobbits donned their cloaks and packs. Sam tried to relieve Frodo of his pack, but after a short scuffle and a deadly look from his Master, Sam relinquished all hope of doing so with a sigh. Elrond motioned to four almost identical looking elves and in rushed elvish, told them his wishes. They bowed as one, each chose a corner of the litter and stood ready. Elrond covered Aragorn lovingly in warmed blankets and then a slicker. The covers in the forefront of the litter were braced above the man’s face so he could breathe easily, while still remaining protected from the rain. With a nod, the four elves bent and stood, lifting their prospective corners of the litter. A small gasp was all that was heard from the Ranger but the man remained unconscious. Elrond leveled a frown at the litter bearers and the elves looked chagrinned at the silent remonstration. As one the elves walked towards the cave entrance and out into the rain. Frodo hurried ahead to walk beside the litter. Elrond walked beside him and spoke softly, “I would have you walk with Gandalf, Ringbearer,” he said simply.
Frodo’s face flushed in anger, “I prefer to remain at Aragorn’s side, my Lord,” he said in a raspy voice.
“That may be, Frodo, but until the litter has reached level ground, I must insist.” Frodo looked up at Elrond questioningly. “Traversing the cliff side will be treacherous under the best of circumstances. My bearers will need to focus completely on Aragorn and the litter, they do not need to also be concerned for your welfare as they try to keep track of your position next to them,” the elf said bluntly.
“Oh… my apologies, I had not thought of that. Of course, my Lord, I will walk with the others until we reach the Vale,” Frodo said in chagrin. Frodo watched as the elves carrying Aragorn surefootedly negotiated the Rock Rim, never slipping or faltering as they sidestepped any obstacle along the long descent.
The hobbits, on the other hand, had a harder time keeping their feet. The near constant rain had loosened the rock and runnels of mud had created crevices and holes in the cliff side. Merry slipped first and slid some feet before an elf grabbed him and set him back on his feet. Pippin was no better; a badly placed foot almost ended in disaster as his ankle sank into a hole and he began to fall forward. Gandalf plucked him from the air as he fell and without comment, settled the smaller hobbit on his hip. Pip blanched as he looked down at the Vale far below them. Sam was loaded down with his heavier than usual pack (he had almost emptied Frodo’s pack into his own before their departure) and the extra weight was now working against him as it threw off his center of gravity. Two elves walked beside him and before Sam had been aware of an impending slip, they would grab the hobbit under his elbows and lift him clear. At first it had startled Sam to be lifted and then placed surely back on his feet without a word’s notice, but after it had occurred several times, Sam began to smile and enjoy himself, awed by the seemingly magical abilities of elves at avoiding catastrophe that only reinforced Sam’s belief that elves were an enchanted race.
Of no surprise to Elrond, Frodo’s descent was the most eventful of all. Pippin had let out a howl of pain as he had fallen forward and Frodo had reacted immediately and started to race towards Pippin’s side. The unreliability of the mountain’s terrain had even the normally sure footed elves struggling to keep their feet and Frodo’s feet flew out from under him as a multitude of arms reached out grabbing for him, but missing the hobbit by inches. He rolled down the hillside to the very edge of the Rock Rim and at the last second, his arm shot out and grasped onto a small, scraggily tree growing out over the cliff’s edge. Elrond raced to the precipice and he reached down, grabbing Frodo’s wrist just as the little tree’s roots gave way, pulling him to safety. The Ringbearer’s face was paler than normal against the halo of muddy curls.
“Are you injured?” Elrond demanded.
Frodo swallowed thickly before looking over the edge at what had almost become his final resting place. “No…I am fine,” he said so quietly that Elrond wasn’t sure if the hobbit had spoken or if it had been a passing breeze.
Elrond frowned at Frodo who was holding his left side stiffly. It would do no good to argue with the Ringbearer here but he meant to see that no additional accidents took place on this already fraught journey. He picked Frodo up and resumed the hike down the hillside.
“This is demeaning, my Lord. I can walk on my own,” Frodo started.
Elrond said in a carefully schooled voice, “This is no longer your decision, Frodo. You will be silent and rest until we reach the Vale.” His voice was flat but Frodo knew instinctively that he had badly frightened the elf Lord and that it would be most unwise to argue with him, so he said nothing as he was settled on the elf’s hip and they resumed their climb down the hillside.
Once they reached the Vale and saw Aragorn and his bearers waiting for them, there was a collective sigh of relief not only from the hobbits, but by all who had taken part in their care. When Elrond set Frodo on his feet the hobbit staggered a step and the elf reached out to steady him. He gave Elrond a thankful look before walking over to Aragorn’s litter. He took the man’s hand and tried to look up over the edge. All of the hobbits, except perhaps for Sam who hadn’t fallen, were muddy, scratched and tousled. Elrond looked at each in turn, all worries about Pippin’s ankle fled when the young hobbit suddenly darted towards a small canvas bag of apples that had been left behind when they had left the Vale. Finally, his eye settled on Frodo. The hobbit was very pale save for his cheeks which were ruddy with fever, and his face was covered in dewy perspiration. When he looked up and saw the elf Lord’s scrutiny, Elrond could see that the hobbit’s eyes were tired and bloodshot. He sighed and walked over to the four elves in charge of Aragorn’s stretcher. The elves bowed to him and he gave them a slight nod.
“How does he fare?” he asked in elvish.
“He is well, my Lord and has shown no discomfort thus far.”
Elrond bowed, “I am in your debt.” He touched the feverish forehead of the Ranger’s. “He is as my natural son and I love him dearly. His comfort is of utmost importance to me,” he murmured.
“The honor is ours, my Lord Elrond, to care for such a worthy and honorable man,” the elf replied.
Elrond looked around and let loose a shrill whistle. The ground began to shake violently and Sam, Merry and Pippin ran to Gandalf and crowded around his legs, pulling the voluminous robes around them until only their faces peeked out.
Gandalf could not help but laugh loudly as the horses crested the hill and raced towards them, stopping in front of each of their respective riders. The elves mounted while Gandalf disentangled himself from the hobbits. A beautiful pale palomino walked up to them and nuzzled Sam’s hair. Sam giggled, slipping the horse a slice of apple.
Elrond picked up Merry placing him in front of Elladan. “Well met, Meriadoc. I have been meaning to speak to you about your encounter with the lioness. Perhaps we could pass the time talking?” Elladan said cheerily.
“Oh, I would like that very much!” Merry exclaimed.
“Sam, you will ride with Elrohir,” Elrond said.
“Beggin’ yer pardon, Mr. Elrond sir but I’d rather stay right here on the ground.” Sam looked up, up, and up at the tall horse’s back.
“I am sorry, Samwise but we need to cover as many miles as possible before night falls.” He placed Sam in front of Elrohir. Sam paled noticeably when he looked down. A delighted Pippin was lifted in front of Gandalf and the wizard ruffled the hobbit’s curls affectionately.
“Frodo, you will ride with me,” Elrond said walking towards the Ringbearer.
“No thank you, I prefer to walk next to Aragorn,” Frodo said.
“Frodo you are sick and the bearers will be moving swiftly even though they are laden.”
“No, you said I could walk with Aragorn once we reached the Vale,” Frodo said stubbornly. Sam shifted nervously, not liking the way this conversation was going.
“…will ride with Elrond,” came a low voice. Frodo looked around and saw Aragorn looking at him from the litter.
“Aragorn, I want to walk beside you…” Frodo whispered, gladdened to see the Ranger having a rare moment of lucidity.
“No, my friend, you will ride with Elrond. Do as I say, please. I am the leader of this rag tag bunch, am I not?”
Frodo smiled, “It is good to have you back Aragorn,” he replied.
Aragorn patted his hand as Elrond picked the hobbit up and placed him in front of him on the horse. Soon they were trotting towards Rivendell. Frodo looked back and saw the four elves easily running with the litter. Their pace was in perfect cadence with one another and Aragorn seemed to be floating along between them.
Reassured, Frodo leaned back against the elf Lord. Elrond placed his left hand gently on the Ringbearer’s head and Vilya flickered. “Sleep, Frodo,” he whispered. Frodo’s eyes slipped closed and Elrond covered the hobbit more thoroughly with his slicker with a satisfied smile. “I finally got in the last word it would seem,” he whispered to himself.
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