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Full dark was now upon them and were it not for the hobbits, Elrond would have pushed on until they had reached Rivendell. He looked around at the four bleary eyed Shirelings. They had ridden for a few hours but the large horses had soon proven to be too wide to accommodate their shorter legs, and once they had reached the tree line, all of the riders had had to slow to a walk. That was when Frodo had awoken and insisted he be let down so he could walk beside Aragorn. Sam, seeing his Master walking had insisted on being let down as well and soon all four hobbits were walking beside the riders as they picked their way through the heavy forest. After many hours they were all staggering with exhaustion. Breaks had been few, stopping only long enough for a hurried luncheon. Elrond was glad Aragorn had taken the leisurely pace on the hobbits foray to the Rock Rim, for the distance they had covered over the three days was not far from the Last Homely House. Frodo, he saw, was hanging onto the side of Aragorn’s stretcher with one hand using it for support. As he stumbled Elrond shook his head, the Ringbearer was incredibly stubborn. It seemed they could go no further without rest and he raised his hand signaling a halt. Frodo continued to walk a few paces as if in a trance. The bearers carefully set Aragorn down on a level area of ground as Elrond spoke quietly with Gandalf and Sam before turning and heading for Aragorn. His foster son was in distress, whimpering and tossing his head left and right on the makeshift bed. Elrond talked quickly with the Elves and they bowed before leaving to join their brethren beside a newly kindled fire. The elf Lord did not blame them for Aragorn’s discomfort; they had done well to carry him smoothly for so many hours. But even as steady as their gaits were, the rocking motion had inevitably aggravated Aragorn’s wounds.
Frodo stood in a daze watching Elrond as he removed Aragorn’s coverings and began to unwind the gauze wrappings. Elrond looked over at the Ringbearer, “Frodo, sit down and rest a moment. We will take our ease here until morning, enough time for you to eat and sleep.”
Frodo slowly lifted his eyes to Elrond’s and a rush of pity filled the elf. 'The eyes are always the first sign of illness,’ his mother had always told him eons ago. Frodo’s eyes were glassy and blood shot and his face glistened with perspiration. Although the Ringbearer shivered and drew his cloak more tightly around him, it was obvious that he had developed a fever. Frequently, as they had marched, he had heard Frodo coughing. The cough at first hadn’t been overly alarming and the hobbit had tried to quell any signs of illness. But as day had turned to night, Frodo no longer seemed to care or even be aware of the cough which had grown deeper and wet sounding. Elrond looked over towards the fire and caught Sam’s worried eye. The little gardener saw the elf Lord’s glance and set down his pans and scurried to Elrond’s side.
“Did you need ought, Lord Elrond sir?” he whispered.
“Yes Sam. Have Frodo’s cousins bring over some blankets along with Frodo’s bedroll please and perhaps a cup of tea for your Master.” Elrond smiled, surreptitiously palming a small packet into Sam’s hand. “In addition, I will need a large pot of warm water and assistance from two of my elves and Gandalf as well,” he added with a small smile. Sam glanced at Frodo who was sitting with his knees drawn up to his chest. His arms were wrapped around them and he was rocking slightly back and forth, eyes closed. Elrond saw Sam’s brow crease into a frown before scurrying back to the fire to deliver Elrond’s message to a few of his men.
The elves were immediately at Elrond’s side and he motioned with a nod towards the Ranger. Aragorn continued to frown and mutter, now waving a hand in front of him as if trying to push some unknown enemy away. “He burns,” Elrond said softly to himself. “We must get his fever down before further damage occurs,” he continued.
“What can I do?” Gandalf whispered in Elrond’s ear. The elf Lord jumped before he could stop himself and Gandalf quelled his normal teasing knowing Elrond’s complete focus was locked onto his patient.
“I do not know what demons haunt my son and may need your assistance,” Elrond said evenly. With a nod to the elves they slowly elevated Aragorn’s shoulders until he was all but upright. The man’s face glistened with perspiration and his hair hung in damp, lank strands about his face. Slowly, his eyes opened and he looked at the two forms in front of him. All he could see was two cloaked, dark figures, back lit by the flames of the fire. He whirled his torso towards the two elves kneeling on either side of him and grabbed one of the knives from the closest elf’s belt swinging it out in front of him.
“Back!” Aragorn shouted as he waved the weapon within inches of a startled Elrond’s face. Both wizard and Elf leaned away from the knife. Frodo had snapped to awareness when he had heard the shout and, rising slowly, made his way towards the Ranger.
“Aragorn…” he began.
“Frodo…RUN, hide, but whatever you do, do not put on the Ring,” Aragorn shouted, showing far more strength than any present thought he still possessed.
“Aragorn, we are safe. Let Elrond and Gandalf help you, please,” Frodo whispered.
“It is a ruse…RUN, now! Do not hesitate!” Aragorn continued. All about the camp had stopped in silence as they watched the drama unfolding. Then Aragorn’s arm began to drop, his eyes losing focus, as he leaned as far over as possible and retched at Frodo’s feet.
Frodo cried out and knelt down, holding the man’s head as he continued to empty what little remained in his stomach. Finally, the heaving subsided and Aragorn, thoroughly spent, leaned heavily over Frodo’s forearm. Frodo felt a rag being pushed into his hands and looking up he caught the concerned look in Sam’s eyes. He nodded in thanks then wiped away the spittle and vomitus from Aragorn’s mouth and beard. A cup magically appeared and he thanked the stars above that Sam had joined him on this perilous journey. Frodo roused Aragorn enough to take a swallow. The water ran out of the corner of the Ranger’s mouth and suddenly his head snapped back, colliding with Frodo’s chin. Stars filled the hobbit’s vision as he unconsciously released the Ranger. When Frodo had finally opened his eyes he saw Aragorn bucking and lurching about on the stretcher. Strider had been hastily laid down and as his eyes had rolled back into his head, Elrond had placed a strip of leather between his teeth. It seemed like an eternity before Aragorn’s body stilled.
“We must get his temperature down!” Elrond said in frustration. "I do not know what he thought he saw, perhaps Nazgul, but I do not think he will allow us to treat him and we may need to use force. While he is unconscious we need to wash him down with tepid water and I need to look at his wounds. Then of course, he needs to take some water or even broth,” the elf Lord rubbed a hand over his eyes in exhaustion. “Let us begin. Strip him and I will look at his wounds first,” he ordered. The two elves nodded and one of them retrieved his knife from Aragorn’s lax hand. They cut what remained of the Ranger’s clothing from his body as Elrond unwrapped the broken leg. The wound was red and swollen he noted as he washed it carefully. He pulled a small packet containing Athelas, catnip and yarrow from his satchel and placed it on the wound. Aragorn cried out, arching his back as he tried to escape the pain. Elrond quickly re-wrapped the leg in clean gauze and sponged off the fluid that had leaked down the man’s calf.
Aragorn’s eyes crept open as the leg was carefully re-covered and he began to struggle against the elves, trying to kick back at the shrouded figure at his feet.
“Peace my son,” Elrond murmured, but this only seemed to aggravate the situation as the man used all of his remaining strength to fight off his attackers.
“Lord Elrond, if I may?” Frodo said huskily. The elf looked into the blue eyes and Frodo motioned both he and Gandalf away. The elves also he asked to leave and all stepped out of Strider’s sight. “Sam, Merry, Pippin,” Frodo called wearily. The hobbits rushed to Frodo’s side and knelt beside the man. Taking cloths they began to tenderly wash the man with the warm water amid a constant stream of reassurances and endearments, calming the Ranger as each area was washed and then dried. Aragorn lay still, slowly relaxing as the hobbits gently touched and spoke to him. He tensed suddenly, looking around and Frodo knew what the man was looking for.
“They are gone, Strider,” Frodo soothed. “We are all safe thanks to you,” he added. Aragorn relaxed as he looked up at Frodo. “Roll him to this side…slowly,” Frodo said to Merry and Sam. Frodo began to wash the wounds on Aragorn’s back. The man cried out numerous times, whimpering in pain as the bed sores were sponged clean. Pip noticed a single tear slip down Strider’s face and he looked up at Frodo.
“He’s in pain, Frodo.”
Frodo glanced around for Elrond and not seeing the elf Lord, was startled when he felt a gentle touch to his shoulder. The elf had slipped silently up behind him and now was pressing three additional gauze packets into the Ringbearer’s hands. Frodo nodded and then placed each on the oozing sores. Then with the others assistance, he wrapped Strider’s chest with gauze to hold them in place. Pip had placed two blankets by the fire to warm, intending them for Frodo, but now he rose and quickly gathered them and the hobbits snuggly tucked these around their friend.
“He needs a nightshirt, sir,” Sam said in concern. Merry retrieved Aragorn’s pack and pawed through the contents until he found a semi-clean tunic. Sam took it and inspected it to Merry’s amusement. The material was soft and would help to keep the Ranger covered so no new sores could form. Sam deemed it suitable and handed it to Frodo. They pushed the man partially up and fed his arms through the sleeves then pulling the tunic over his head and down his torso. The shirt was soaked through in a matter of moments. Aragorn’s eyes opened slowly and he gazed up at Frodo.
Frodo smiled down at him, “Your dinner is ready, Aragorn. Would you like to join me for a bite?”
Aragorn’s face blanched, “No…not hungry. I am thirsty however, do you have some tea or water?”
“Of course, Aragorn,” Frodo retrieved the cup from beside the fire. “Here this will help,” he said softly.
Aragorn took the cup with shaking hands and Frodo covered the hands with his own to steady it. Aragorn drank deeply thinking the tea a little bitter but he was so thirsty he didn’t really care.
“Slowly, you don’t want to be sick again,” Frodo whispered.
“Have I been ill?” Aragorn asked in a whisper. As if in answer he began to cough deeply, turning quickly to the side and expelling some of the tea along with a pale pink wad of phlegm. Frodo held his head until he was sure the man was finished.
“You have been, Aragorn. How do you feel now?”
“I do not remember becoming ill,” the man mused. “However, I would be lying if I said I felt like myself. For some reason, my leg pains me abominably. It is taking all of my strength to not give into the pain, I am afraid. I am so hot and my head and chest hurt, like a great Oliphant is sitting upon me. What is wrong with me?”
Frodo looked worriedly at his friend. “Your leg is broken and you have a very high fever, Aragorn. We are trying our best to take care of you and get you back to Rivendell.”
“How did I break my leg…was it the Nazgul? I saw them surrounding me, oh Frodo I am sorry, I promised to protect you.” The Ranger’s voice was filled with worry and regret.
Frodo’s voice trembled, “Yes, the Nazgul,” he said hollowly. “You saved us all, Aragorn. The Nazgul are gone now.”
“No…he was here! He was bent over me!”
“No Aragorn that was Elrond. He is here to see you returned to Rivendell.”
“No… you are…you are mistaken. Frodo you are in grave danger. You must flee!” Aragorn croaked, his voice becoming shrill as he grasped at Frodo’s hand. “Leave me, they will return. FLEE!” the man screamed before he fell back in exhaustion. Frodo sat staring down at the man, cold chills racing up his spine. He couldn’t help but shoot a quick look around the wooded area. The trees seemed closer and he felt his heart freeze in fear. Aragorn was lost now to a feverish dream somewhere between waking and sleeping. Elrond and Gandalf’s forms coalesced from the shadows as they moved towards Aragorn’s side. Frodo released a breath when he realized who the two forms were.
“Thank you, Ringbearer,” Elrond said softly. He turned towards the remaining three hobbits, “I am in your debt,” he murmured. All three hobbits blushed and dropped their heads.
“Wasn’t more than he’d do for us, sir,” Sam murmured.
Elrond smiled, “I am still grateful for your obvious care for my son.” He pulled a blanket up over Aragorn and briefly let his hand rest on the man’s forehead as he closed his eyes. Seemingly satisfied he motioned to a group of elves who hastily constructed a tent over Aragorn’s sleeping form as the rain had resumed with gusto. It hammered down on the tarp before pouring off of the edges and onto the ground. The hobbits were soaked through in a matter of moments but stood by watching, heedless of the rain as Elrond and Gandalf securely wrapped the Ranger against the elements.
Finally, Frodo stepped away and began to walk towards the fire. Sam rushed ahead to pour his Master a cup of tea containing Elrond’s mysterious tea leaves. He also scooped a serving of soup into a cup and met his Master at the fire. Frodo was drenched, they all were, but Frodo was the only one that concerned Sam. His Master looked horrible as he took the tea with quavering hands, turning back to stare into the fire. Frodo ignored the stew no matter how much Pippin went on about how good it was. He drank his tea automatically, seeming to neither like nor dislike it. Sam brought a blanket and draped it about his Master’s shoulders noticing how violently Frodo was shaking. He ran back to Elrond in a panic.
“Me Master’s ill, sir. Is there ought you can do?” he cried worriedly.
“I know, Sam. The herbs will help clear his head and make him sleepy. I am afraid other than keeping him warm and dry…” he looked over towards the huddled figure by the fire seeing that the hobbit in question was neither… “and getting him to Rivendell in all due haste, there is little else I can do” he finished.
Gandalf walked to the fire and gazed down at the dazed hobbit. “We will rest for a few hours then continue on to Rivendell. We will need to set up covered areas to try and keep everyone relatively dry, the fire will blaze through the night for additional heat. You there,” he pointed to a group of elves, “Help your Master and I set up tents or tarps for sleeping.” The camp came alive as all of the elves began roping off areas with tarps then lay more tarps on the ground. Bedding was spread out clustered closely together. One elf brought rocks and placed them in the coals to warm. Frodo never moved though all around him were in motion. They all ate a hurried meal then bid good night to each other before finding comfortable places on the ground to slip into the dream like pseudo-sleep that seemed to be the elves preferred method of rest. When Elrond finally stood at his friend’s side by the fire, all was quiet and only the hobbits remained beside them. Frodo’s head had fallen onto his chest, the teacup hung precariously by one lax hand. Elrond bent, placing a hand to the Ringbearer’s forehead. Then he knelt and placed his head to Frodo’s chest. The only sound was the occasional snap of wood as it shifted and popped in the fire. Finally Elrond stood a frown on his face. He looked at Gandalf and gave an almost imperceptible shake of his head. Sam watched the silent communication not missing a beat.
“It’s bad isn’t it? My Master’s got more than jes a cold, doesn’t he?” he cried.
“Yes, Samwise, he is very sick, more than just a simple cold, I fear. We will be in Rivendell by midday, until then we must keep both he and Aragorn warm and dry. Aragorn’s fever is slightly reduced thanks to your Master, Samwise, but it will rise err the morning comes. Meriadoc, have you prepared the sleeping area?”
“I have, my Lord, under those trees. The ground wasn’t as wet and thanks to the elves, it’s covered.”
Elrond nodded, “Mithrandir, if you will bring the Ringbearer?”
Gandalf bent and scooped up the sleeping hobbit and Merry led them to where he had rolled out their bedding. Gandalf carefully laid Frodo in the center. Sam and Merry quickly peeled the damp clothing off of Frodo as two elves stepped forward with four bundles of hot rocks wrapped in heavy toweling which they placed at Frodo’s feet and along the Ringbearer’s frigid left side. Sam tucked his Master in with as many blankets as could be spared then he and the others slipped under blankets on either side of their friend, spooning close to the shivering body.
Elrond and Gandalf withdrew, returning to the fire side. “Frodo has a fever and his lungs sound quite congested, more so than with a common cold,” Elrond said, looking at Gandalf, “I fear he is getting pneumonia. I also looked at the phlegm Aragorn expelled and it appears he too is getting the disease. I should never have allowed this walking party,” he suddenly burst out in fury.
Gandalf shook his head, “It was not up to you, my friend, but a stubborn hobbit. It does no use thinking of should haves and what ifs when now we must put all our energies into getting to Rivendell and seeing them both well again.”
“I hope we are not too late, Gandalf,” Elrond murmured.
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