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Trapped in a Dark World
Rumbles, growls and a cold wind assailed Frodo as he was plunged into a hellish blackness lit only by a swirling fog of orange. Shapes, he saw, that he thought might be people but he was unsure so he felt his way along the wall trying to avoid them. Some of the shapes seemed lit from within by a bright, bluish light. Unlike the orange and occasional flashes of yellow, these shapes calmed his soul and their light was as a beacon of hope. Then with a thunderous explosion, the Eye appeared before him. He scuttled behind an open door, trying to hide.
“I see you, thief of that which is mine. I will send my servants and we will at last entrap you, forever to serve the one Lord of the Ring!” The voice boomed, harsh and grating as the eye contracted and narrowed fixedly onto him.
And then a remarkable thing occurred; a blinding white light that caused Frodo to wince and throw up his arm to protect his eyes, stopped a scant few feet from his hiding place. The Eye swept the area back and forth, unable to penetrate the pure radiance. Frodo quickly slipped out of his hiding place and drew close to this new protective influence. He did not know what it was, this saving brilliance, but it *felt* wholly benevolent and peaceful. As the being moved he quickened his pace to catch up with the light but his body dragged; the energy he needed spent. He gasped for air and choked on the wad of sputum that filled his windpipe. Frodo’s head swam and he staggered, disoriented by the glaring brilliance and the blackness of the void, both seeking to fill his field of vision. His head was pounding as colorful dots filled his vision. He thought he might be ill and he teetered dangerously close to fainting. As his legs started to give out from under him he reached out to catch himself and felt cloth which he grasped in desperation. The white figure stopped and deliberately turned around before slowly proceeding onwards. Frodo was trying to think of what he would do when the figure continued on past Aragorn’s room and they would be separated but luck, it would seem, was with him as the figure stopped and opened the door to Aragorn’s room.
He had been summoned by Elrond although he knew not what he could do to help his long-time friend Aragorn. He had no real healing abilities that he was aware of, but he would never gainsay his Lord. Perhaps Aragorn’s condition had improved or he was needed for some other task. Excited at the possibility of an improvement in the Ranger’s condition and the man’s returning to his normal robust health, he quickened his pace. And that was when he heard it, huge gulping gasps as if someone were running a race to catch up with him. Someone coughed deeply and he heard a low moan and he slowed his pace, looking around, before continuing forward. Then he felt his cloak pull violently down on one side and he stopped cold, eyes wide as he slowly turned and looked around him. “Perhaps a prank of Legolas,” he thought with a smile. But the smile faded as he realized Legolas was on patrol many leagues away at that very moment. Then what…he looked at each of the elves that passed him. They nodded respectfully, if they looked at him at all, and continued on gracefully. “Shades and Spirits,” he mumbled to himself then continued on towards Aragorn’s sick room. He opened the door and quickly closed it behind him before rushing to Elrond’s side. The elf Lord grasped Aragorn across his chest as the Ranger’s head hung over Elrond’s arm. The man’s face was scarlet from his struggles as well as the fever. He was totally limp, his face flushed with perspiration as he coughed deeply. An elf held a basin under his mouth as thick pink tinged sputum drained slowly into it. Occasionally, Aragorn would buck as he choked on the viscous phlegm.
Elrond noticed him and gave him a short nod while at Aragorn’s back Balorian pounded a steady staccato as he tried to loosen the infection from the Ranger’s lungs. Aragorn writhed and moaned in pain until finally Balorian ceased his beating.
“My Lord?” he asked Elrond.
“It is enough for now. Give him one hour, and then repeat the procedure. How is Frodo faring?”
“He is in much the same condition as Aragorn, I fear. He is also showing signs of hallucinations, my Lord.”
Elrond winced. He feared doing the procedure to the hobbit coming so recently after Frodo’s wounding, but pneumonia could be deadly to someone so newly recovered. “We will need to start the percussions on him as well, of course to a lesser extent than with a full grown man,” he said slowly making sure Balorian understood. Elrond trusted the elf implicitly and when Balorian gave him a short bow, knew that the healer would choose an assistant with a lighter touch for the hobbit. Elrond straightened, laying his foster son back against the pillows. He began to wash Aragorn’s face of perspiration and spittle.
The door careened open and Sam, Merry and Pippin rushed in with expressions of panic on their faces.
“Mr. Frodo’s gone, sir! We gotta find ‘em,” Sam cried. Merry and Pip clutched at each other nodding in agreement.
“Sam, take Merry and Pippin and search all of the hallways and gardens. Frodo is feverish and may try to find some place cooler than his room.” All three disappeared as fast as they came and Elrond could hear Sam shouting directions to both Merry and Pippin as the door shut.
“Glorfindel, I ...” he jumped to his feet, overturning the basin of cool water as he swung around facing the elf.
Glorfindel stepped back in surprise, eyes wide, “My Lord?” he asked in alarm.
“Do not move,” Elrond said in a low voice. The door burst open a second time, slamming against the wall. Standing within the doorway was a panic stricken Gandalf who quickly reached behind him, locking them in.
“Frodo, take it off!” Gandalf shouted as he extended his arms and staff trying to locate the invisible hobbit. Understanding dawned in the elf Lord and he closed his eyes in concentration.
“Master Baggins, you will bring destruction upon us. The Eye is moving and fixed on Rivendell. You MUST remove it,” Elrond said as he endeavored to speak slowly and calmly.
Frodo hesitated as he looked at the forms swaying about Aragorn. Their features were blurred and he rubbed his eyes trying to clear his vision. It certainly *sounded* like Gandalf and Elrond but it could be a trick of the Ring, he thought. He was unable to clearly make out their features. Both had a pinkish white glow surrounding them, not the brilliant white light that the other had but also not giving him a feeling of evil or of darkness.
But he had seen them torturing Aragorn with his own eyes. He could not reveal himself, he decided, and crept hobbit quiet around the bed to Aragorn’s side. He looked up at the man’s still face just as the Ranger’s eyes slit open. He gasped and Gandalf’s head swiveled towards the sound. In two steps he was waving and grasping at the air as Frodo stepped back between two cupboards against the wall. But Frodo now had another problem that dwarfed his suspicions of Gandalf and Elrond. He was in the open, laid bare for the Dark Lord’s lidless eye to see. He felt a sense of triumph from that evil presence.
“Now I have you,” the voice roared as the Eye found him. He clamped his hands over his ears and made for the pure white light that had camouflaged him before. He placed himself at Glorfindel’s front and again the Eye dodged about, seeking him, even as he heard a loud roar of anger from the Dark Lord. He was breathing very hard and feeling faint when he felt a hand fall onto his shoulder.
“Frodo,” a husky voice croaked. “I am unharmed. Please, my friend, do as Gandalf and Elrond have asked.” The voice was very weak and the words were separated by long pauses as the Ranger struggled for breath. “They are trying to *help* me, Frodo, please take off the Ring.”
Frodo turned towards Aragorn as his small hand slipped into the Rangers, who gave it a squeeze. His legs trembled with fatigue and, needing something to lean against or fall unconscious, he grasped the cloth of the brilliant being next to him and leaned into it. Unable to stop himself, he began to cough and choke as his body betrayed him. His eyes rolled back into his head and he fell insensate to the floor.
Glorfindel looked down at his legs, his mouth open and arms held out to his sides, and then knelt down. Elrond and Gandalf rushed over to him and Gandalf quickly ran his hands over the small figure until he located the Ringbearer’s hand, removing the Ring which he then dropped as if he had been burned.
Elrond gasped when Frodo materialized before him. The hobbit was very pale, his face and clothing saturated with perspiration. He bent and placed his head to the hobbit’s chest then touched two fingers to Frodo’s neck. “He is very weak, I do not know how he had the strength to walk here. His breathes are too shallow, I fear he is hypoxic. We need to clear his lungs and quickly or risk losing him. Balorian!” Glorfindel bent and with a flannel, picked up the Ring and handed it to Elrond. Balorian appeared, breathing heavily from his exertions. He crossed to Elrond and handed the elf the silver chain and Elrond slipped the Ring back onto it before placing it over Frodo’s head.
Sam, Merry and Pippin skidded into the room and rushed to Frodo’s side. General chaos ensued as all of the hobbits and began to talk at once. “Is he alright?” “I shoulda’ never left him alone. I am a ninnyhammer.” “Where was he? Can we talk to him?” issued from the group.
“Lads,” an aged voice broke in and Elrond turned to see Bilbo hobbling slowly towards the other three hobbits. “Lads, Elrond and Balorian are going to see to Frodo, come. Come away and let them help him, alright?” Bilbo said calmly.
Hesitantly, the three younger hobbits obeyed as they arranged themselves stiffly next to Bilbo on a divan within sight of the Ringbearer. Elrond gave his old friend a nod of appreciation and Bilbo smiled and gave a quick wink in return. Elrond could see the masked tension and worry in the old hobbit’s face. Bilbo continued to talk and reassure Sam, Merry and Pippin and they listened intently to all he said. They hung on the older hobbit’s words in a desperate hope that the reassurances were indeed fact instead of merely wishful thinking.
Balorian reached to pick up the hobbit but Elrond intervened. He slipped his hands gently under the Ringbearer, lifting him easily into his arms. He walked quickly back to Frodo’s room with four additional hobbits in tow. They clutched the Ringbearer’s hand, foot, or whatever was within reach as Elrond walked, then crowded around Frodo as soon as Elrond had gently laid him down upon the mattress. Elrond sighed audibly.
“Little Masters, if you would be so kind as to move aside. Balorian will take care of your cousin,” he said then looking down at Sam added, “and Master. He will first give him a cool bath but then he will be doing a treatment on Frodo to help the Ringbearer cough up some of the mucus in his lungs. It is not pleasant, but Frodo will be the better for having it done. You may stay if you wish but,” he gave them a ferocious stare that caused them all to shrink back, “You will NOT interfere in his treatment of the Ringbearer. Do you understand?” Three heads nodded quickly, eyes wide. “It will seem cruel but be assured it will help Frodo recover.”
Gandalf had followed the little group into Frodo’s room and now studied Elrond closely, “Strange that Frodo should be having such vivid hallucinations, don’t you think, my friend?”
Elrond gave the Istari a remorseful look. “I gave him a drop of the White Lily Tincture, Gandalf.”
“What? It is unlike you, Elrond, to take such a chance with such a potent remedy,” Gandalf said angrily, shocked that he had witnessed the elf Lord make a rare error in judgment.
“Yes, even one drop was too much, it would seem. I feared he would die without it. It was impetuous and stupid of me to take such a risk with so small a patient. It will not happen again. Even after thousands of years, even I still make mistakes, Gandalf,” Elrond said quietly.
Gandalf placed his hand on the elf Lord’s shoulder, “But not often, my friend. The percussion treatment will be dangerous for Frodo.”
Elrond smiled, “Balorian is very knowledgeable concerning hobbits, I am sure he will be as gentle as he can. Frodo is frail and still recovering from a mortal wound, but pneumonia is something that could take hold of the Ringbearer and slowly drain the life from him. I prefer to take my chances on Balorian.”
“I am still very curious about this Balorian,” Gandalf gave Elrond a side long look. “He does not look like an elf, almost a combination of elf, hobbit and human.”
“You may guess all you want, but I will not share my story until I have time to tell all of the details. You will have to be patient, my friend,” Elrond answered with a wide grin. Gandalf harrumphed as he and Elrond quit the room.
In Frodo’s room Balorian ordered a cool bath and a pot of water was placed on the fire to heat. When it came to a boil he dropped four crumpled athelas leaves onto the burbling surface, releasing the rich wood scent the herb was known for.
Everyone inhaled deeply as they prepared Frodo for his bath. Sam rushed to assist, removing his Master’s clothing and folding it neatly before placing them on a nearby chair. His hands shook and tears filled his eyes as he looked down at the feverish and wasted body of his Master. Elrond gently lifted Frodo from the bed and placed him in the wooden tub. Merry and Pippin rushed to quickly change the bedding then paced beside the tub hoping to hear some bit of conversation of what Elrond planned next for their cousin. Sam had left for the kitchen hoping to find something nourishing for his Master. Too impatient to wait for long, Merry grabbed some towels and laid them by the fire. Pippin watched him then went to the tub and stood next to Elrond watching as the elf bathed his cousin. “Can I help, my Lord?” he asked quietly.
Elrond smiled up at the pert little hobbit, “Could you talk to him, Pippin? He needs to hear a voice he recognizes to help ground him and make him feel safe.” Pip nodded vigorously, excited to be of some use. He sat down at Frodo’s head and began to whisper to Frodo all that had been going on in Tookland before he had left. Elrond listened silently and noticed tears of homesickness standing in the green eyes as Pippin twirled one of Frodo’s locks absently.
Finally, the water grew cool and Elrond lifted the quiescent hobbit and dried him with one of Merry’s warmed towels then dressed him in a clean nightshirt before settling him between clean sheets and pulling a comforter up to his chin. He bent and placed his head against the hobbits chest, “His breathing sounds easier,” Elrond said with a sigh. He turned to Balorian, “Create a tent over the Ringbearer and place a boiling pot of athelas water inside. After he has rested a few hours we will begin the percussion therapy on him.” Balorian nodded in understanding.
Sam, Merry, Pippin and Bilbo arranged themselves around a sleeping Frodo, watching the Ringbearer draw in a slow raspy breath then exhale equally slowly.
Elrond watched them for a moment before Gandalf joined him. “Well, this won’t do at all,” the Istari said. Four heads turned and looked questioningly up at him. Elrond smiled at Gandalf and gave him a slow nod.
“What won’t do, Mr. Gandalf?” Sam bit.
“I have a dear friend that is badly in need of some hobbit care,” Gandalf said mysteriously. All of the hobbits heads swiveled and looked at Frodo.
“No, Frodo is well taken care of, my friends. I was referring to Aragorn,” he said quietly.
“We wanted to help with Strider but all those big people rushing around made us feel, well,” Merry looked around at Sam and Pippin who were looking at their hands and the floor respectively.
“Useless,” Bilbo said. The hobbits all looked at the older, wiser hobbit and smiled.
Gandalf and Elrond smiled as well. “My son is suffering. I need to stay with Master Baggins for a time and I wondered if you would do me the favor of helping care for Aragorn.” The hobbits all looked at each other, Sam looked nervously over at Frodo. Elrond had no trouble reading the gardener’s mind. “Master Gamgee, I will call for you if your Master stirs or needs you in any way.” Sam still looked uncertain but Gandalf was already moving them along towards the door. Elrond followed, hands pressed at Sam and Bilbo’s backs, thanking them profusely for their assistance.
“You promise you’ll come for me, sir?
“I will, Samwise,” Elrond reassured him. He watched the group walk down the hall towards Aragorn’s room with a small smile, then closed the door. “Balorian, let’s get started. Who did you get to do the percussions?”
Sam frowned at the greasy hair and pale face of the Ranger. “He’s almost as pale as Mr. Frodo!” he exclaimed.
“And as thin,” Merry added.
“And he’s taller so he’s thinner all the way up, like a piece of stretched taffy,” Pippin said, eyes wide. They all looked at Pippin and grinned.
“Well, let’s do this then,” Sam said with authority. “He needs good hearty food to get his strength back. Mr. Pippin, you go to the kitchen and see if their cook can fix a thick meat stew with lots of vegetables, hobbit style…you know what I mean,” Sam said.
“How about some bread and maybe cider to drink, fruit with clotted cream for a nice side dish, some mashed sweet potatoes…oh, and something for afters too…”
“No, Pippin. Strider hasn’t eaten much lately so we have to give him soft foods and only a little of that until he’s more used to it,” Bilbo said, looking at the Ranger in sympathy.
“As big as he is? How’s he going to *live* on that amount of food,” Pip said, incredulous.
Sam shushed him and looked around at the solemn elves. “Mr. Pippin, don’t say it like that. He’s gonna live just fine. Men don’t eat like us, remember?”
“Oh, sorry,” Pippin whispered, covering his mouth and shooting an apologetic look towards the elves, who only smiled at the winsome hobbit.
Pippin scurried off towards the kitchen as Merry and Bilbo moved closer to Sam. “Poor man needs a proper bath. Why, he’s still got leaves in his hair from camping,” Bilbo sighed.
Sam smiled, “Why Master, that’s a wonderful idea,” he exclaimed. Bilbo only looked at him in confusion.
“Excuse me,” Merry said, approaching the group of elves who were restocking the shelves with clean bandages and medicines. He bowed and smiled at the elves.
“Yes, Master Perian, we are to assist you in any way you require,” a thin elf with long black hair said with a low bow. Merry bowed again.
“Do you have a low tub we could use for Strider…er…Aragorn?”
The elf turned and spoke in rapid elvish and two of the group nodded, rose and left. Soon they returned with a long shallow wooden tub. Merry smiled. “Perfect!” he cried. “Now, we need some gentle soap, a brush and some soft cloths..oh and some towels.” The elves nodded and smiled, leaving and returning with stacks of towels, soap, a brush and a man sized night shirt.
“All right then…er…Mr. Elves, sirs,” Sam blushed furiously as Merry giggled loudly behind his back. The elves smiled expectantly at the hobbit. Could you bring us some kettles of warm, but not real warm, water so we can bathe him proper like?” Again the elves jumped into action, bringing in coppers of water and filling the awaiting tub about half full. Sam tested the water, adding just a half bucket more of cool water to it. With a nod to Merry and Bilbo they uncovered the Ranger and the elves gently carried him to the shallow tub. Sam scooted a footstool over to the side of the tub for Aragorn’s leg. Aragorn sighed as he was lowered into the warm bath. Merry and Pippin washed his hair and squeezed out the water then wrapped his head in a towel, talking quietly to the Ranger as they worked.
Sam giggled and the other hobbits looked over at him. “I can’t help it, he looks just like Daisy after her bath,” he snorted. They all looked back at the man and grinned widely.
Bilbo and Sam knelt over the man and carefully soaped then rinsed him clean even wiping down the exposed foot on his broken leg. While they worked the bed linens had been changed and, at Sam’s instruction, extra padding was added to the mattress to cushion the Ranger’s back. Merry laid the warmed towels over the sheets. Sam motioned to the elves that they were finished and they lifted Aragorn gently, placing him onto the warmed towels. But Sam didn’t let them go yet, “We need you to help us turn him,” he tried to explain. They looked at him in confusion, but when Sam picked up the eucalyptus oil and poured some into each of the hobbits hands, understanding dawned.
Small warm hands worked the oil into muscles sore from lying in one position too long, as they spoke softly to Strider. Pippin hummed a tune under his breath as he massaged the man’s leg muscles. They all stopped when they heard a relaxed moan of contentment from the Ranger and gathered around his head to peer into his face. But Aragorn’s eyes stayed closed. “He does look much more content,” Bilbo said softly. Sam beamed at Merry and Pippin who grinned back at him. They had the elves move Aragorn onto his other side and rubbed more oil onto the abraded skin.
Next, Sam and Merry moved behind him, propping him into a sitting position and finally Aragorn’s eyes drifted lazily open.
“Pippin?” he asked weakly.
“Yes. My you’ve been a lay about lately,” Pippin joked. Aragorn smiled tiredly. “We have some lovely foods for you to try and you’ll have to eat them or Frodo will be very hurt,” Pippin said softly, trying his hand at Frodo’s deception. “You wouldn’t want that, would you?”
“No indeed,” Aragorn mumbled shaking his head, then thinking better of it. He looked around, “Where is Frodo, Pippin?” He asked softly. “I dreamt he had taken the Ring and put it on and was trying to help me.”
Pippin gulped, “Oh, uh, he’s resting. He’s been cooking all day and needed a little nap.”
“Oh…” Aragorn mumbled something else that Pip couldn’t make out.
“Here drink this,” Pippin held the cup up to Aragorn’s lips and the Ranger took a sip then his eyes widened and he reached for the cup.
“Not too fast, Strider,” Merry whispered. Aragorn forced himself to drink slowly until finally Pippin removed the cup. Aragorn eyeing it longingly.
“Try some of this,” Pippin said gently. He spooned some of the salted, pureed stew into the man’s mouth and Aragorn ate hungrily. He finished the stew and asked for more of the cider which Pippin gave him. After he finished the cider Pippin gave him a cool glass of water.
“Thank you, thank Frodo for me. I think I’ll just close my eyes for a little while,” Aragorn slurred. They left him semi-reclined against a stack of pillows, to sleep.
Sam yawned followed by Merry and Pippin. Bilbo was already nodding in his chair. “Taking care of sick people is hard work,” Pippin said curling up next to Merry on the divan, his head in Merry’s lap.
“That it is, Mr. Pippin. I ‘bess go check on Mr. Frodo now,” Sam said with a yawn. He leaned back against Aragorn’s bed and closed his eyes. When Elrond and Gandalf returned to check on them they found a clean Ranger, whose temperature was slightly lower and a room full of sleeping hobbits.
Gandalf chuckled, “Well, you know better than anyone, my friend that taking care of the sick can be draining.”
Elrond smiled sardonically, one eyebrow arched, “I begin to wonder if I am truly up to the challenge with this particular group of patients, Gandalf,” he said with a sigh.
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