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Chapter 21 Forays of Foolishness
After hearing the door snick closed Frodo slowly opened his eyes and looked around the room. He glanced over at Aragorn and saw that although the man’s face was damp with perspiration, he appeared to be relaxed and resting quietly, temporarily cooled by his bath. Frodo laid there for some time, carefully assessing his hurts and ills. His shoulder throbbed; a pain that seemed to continue without end. He lift his head and immediately wished he hadn’t as the room spun in and out of focus. He groaned and took slow, deep breathes as he tried to control the ensuing nausea. Slowly, he lowered his head back to the pillow.
From his right he heard a small groan and he turned and watched as Aragorn tossed his head back and forth on his pillow. His friend was in pain and Frodo felt helpless being so far across the room. “If only I could help him in some way,” he mused. “And why not? He sacrificed himself to protect me when that limb broke. He could have *died* giving no thought to his own safety.” A moan caused Frodo to push himself slowly up so he could see the Ranger clearly. Aragorn’s face was beaded with sweat, his brow furled in pain, as he licked dry lips. “Confound it, where are those healers when you actually want them about?” Frodo muttered, looking towards the door and listening for the too quiet foot falls common to the Elves. As he continued to watch the Ranger he saw something that nearly broke his heart; a single tear broke free from the man’s left eye and trailed slowly down his face into the pillow. Frodo gasped, “That’s IT… I cannot simply lie here when he needs medicine and someone to comfort him.” He looked towards the door again, in hopes that it would swing open, pouring forth healers and orderlies to see to Aragorn’s every whim. Nothing.
Frodo looked at his arm in disgust and then scanned the area around him for something he could use as a sling. His face lit up and he pulled one of the pillows from behind his head and stuffing it under his chin, he pulled off the casing. He had to try a several times to fold the cover one handed into a triangle before bringing it to his mouth to hold while he tied the corner. Sweat ran down his face but he stubbornly slipped it over his head, clenched his teeth and slowly moved his left arm towards his chest. He almost lost consciousness and had to take several breathes to clear his vision and quell the nausea. He laid back panting and blinking away the encroaching darkness. He bit his lip hard, bringing blood but also clearing his sight. He resumed his efforts crying out as the shoulder slipped from the supporting pillow. He closed his eyes, gasping for air, before gritting his teeth and grasping the left arm with his right, maneuvered the arm into the sling. He lay back and rested for many minutes as the sweat rolled off of him.
Slowly he raised his head, bracing his right arm close to his body, to make an attempt to rise. The arm quavered and collapsed and Frodo cried out again as a jolt went through the shoulder. Another moan of distress from Aragorn caused a surge of adrenaline to flow through him and holding the injured arm close to his body, he rolled to the right pushing with his feet. He grasped the table with his hand and swung his feet over the edge clasping the sheet tightly, and slowly lowered his feet to the floor. The room whirled as he clutched at the table with all his might before losing the battle with his stomach and heaving repeatedly onto himself and the floor. Gasping, he reached out a trembling hand towards a glass of water but as he touched it, it tipped, falling with a clatter and spilling most of its contents. He grasped the cup and brought it to his mouth, capturing the last swallow and washing the bitterness from his mouth. His legs wobbled, threatening to fold under him at any moment, and he leaned heavily against the bed and began to shuffle slowly around it, grasping the blankets and sheets for dear life.
The room seemed fuzzy around the edges and it swung in and out of view so he closed his eyes as he walked. “I’m so weak,” he whispered to himself, before smiling wanly, “Good thing Merry and Pip aren’t here or I’d never hear the end of the old jokes. Merry always did say I was a lollygagger.” His left foot stubbed against the bed post and reflexively, both hands shot out to grasp the bedding. Frodo screamed into the blankets as pain lanced through his shoulder. His vision darkened and before he would have lost consciousness, he weakly clamped down on his lower lip, biting it savagely. Blood ran down his chin as he turned glazed eyes towards his goal. Aragorn moaned as he fussed with his blankets…one minute pulling them close, the next pushing them away as the fever burned within him. Frodo knew he needed to get closer in order to cross the two or three feet between a small table and Aragorn’s bed. If he could only make it to the table, he would be close enough to touch the man.
Having recovered enough to continue on, Frodo resumed his slow progress around the bed. Unbeknownst to Frodo, his shoulder now bled freely, the trip over the bed post and sudden grasping of the covers had caused muscle to tear and had torn free all of the meticulously tied sutures Lord Elrond had just placed in the injured shoulder. Frodo was completely unaware of the trail of blood he was leaving behind him as the linen nightshirt became saturated. He began to chant to himself “step, slide, step, slide” in an attempt to focus on moving and working past the pain. He moved in a dazed trance as pain and exhaustion slowly robbed him of conscious thought. He stepped forward finding that there was nowhere else to go, realizing he had made it around his bed. He leaned back, still grasping his comforter as he attempted to judge the distance to Aragorn’s bedside table. He took a deep breath and willed his legs to be strong enough for the two or three steps it would take to reach his goal. He let go of his blanket and held his breath as his legs shook, threatening to fold from under him at any moment. He lunged towards the table just as they traitorously gave out beneath him, catching the edge of the table and pulling himself upright. He leaned heavily against the table, catching his breath before reaching out and grasping Aragorn’s bed post and pulling himself towards the man. He leaned against the bed, slowly taking the damp rag floating in the basin of water, and gently began to wash away the sweat from Aragorn’s face and neck.
Aragorn stilled, sensing that someone was near then his eyes slowly cracked open and locked with Frodo’s. “Frodo?” he asked weakly.
“Shh, let me make you more comfortable, Strider,” Frodo gasped. The door swung open and Elrond and Gandalf entered. Stunned silence filled the room as the Istari and Elf Lord took in the sight of the blankets on the floor, the smell of vomit and the blossoming blood stain on the Ringbearer’s shoulder. Their mouths hung open speechless, as Frodo gave them a wan smile, “I know you’re angry, but look---I made it here all by myself,” he said proudly, before his eyes rolled up into his head and he collapsed onto the floor.
Chaos ensued as Elves rushed about bringing coppers of water that were placed on the fire, rushing to store rooms for bandages and medicines and hurriedly stripping dirty linens from the bed to be replaced with clean. Merry, Pippin and Sam appeared on the threshold and watched with wide eyes the uncharacteristic sight of frantic and noisy elves. Sam looked desperately about for Frodo as a white faced Deara ran passed him. Merry and Pippin crossed to Aragorn’s bedside, trying to stay out of the melee only to almost trip over the Lord of the house as he crouched over something on the floor. When the Elf swung his head around to see who had approached, both hobbits took a step backwards as the stormy countenance locked eyes with them. Sam joined them, his eyes slowly drifting towards the floor and taking in the bloody body of his Master.
“Master Frodo!” he cried in alarm.
Merry and Pippin saw their unconscious cousin on the floor a heartbeat after Sam. All three lunged towards Frodo, trying to get past Elrond as Gandalf intervened, physically corralling and pushing them towards the door. Sam fought him and Gandalf came to a sudden halt giving him a shake. “NO, Samwise!” He thundered. All three hobbits recoiled, clinging to one another in fear. Gandalf softened his voice and gave them a tired smile. “No, my friends, you need to leave until we can assess the damage your unruly cousin has wrought.” Sam’s face turned purple as he gathered his breath for a rebuttal but Gandalf placed his hand on the young gardener’s shoulder, “You will have to trust me, Samwise. You cannot rush in and take care of him this time. I will call for you once we have all in order.” Then the wizard was gone, leaving three stunned hobbits in the hallway, the door securely locked between them and their cousin.
“What is happening? I saw Frodo…where did he go?” Aragorn rasped, the noise causing him to become increasingly agitated. Even over the din, Elrond’s acute hearing caught his foster son’s cries. He motioned to Deara and she forced a smile on her face as she sat down by Aragorn’s bedside. She moistened the rag and wiped the Ranger’s forehead. The man’s eyes were closed as he put forth his questions. He slowly opened his eyes and looked up at her. “Why…where did he go?” Taking in the cacophony and general chaos as Elves rushed in and out, calling loudly to each other, he became more lucid. “Deara, what has happened?” he asked in a demanding voice. He looked towards Frodo’s bed and saw the bed was freshly made but Frodo was absent. An elf was walking towards the door carrying what looked like bloody linens. Aragorn felt a jolt run through him as he came full awake. “What has happened to him? Where is he, Deara?” he all but shouted.
She tried to allay his fears by talking quietly in reassuring tones, but Aragorn had used the same techniques on agitated patients and knew that it was usually used to avoid answering serious questions and to keep a patient calm.
Hearing his son’s voice become more frantic, Elrond slowly rose from the floor and into Aragorn’s vision. The Ranger looked at him in confusion then Gandalf rose, a white bundle in his arms. As Aragorn watched, blood slowly crept over the white linen. “Frodo!” he gasped, as Gandalf turned, moving towards the freshly made bed. “Ada?”
Elrond laid the back of his hand on Aragorn’s brow and frowned. “My son, Frodo made his way to your bedside, no doubt sensing your distress and wishing to alleviate some of your discomfort…how he found the strength to do so his beyond me.”
“Even now, you do not realize just how stubborn and determined our Ringbearer is,” Gandalf said gruffly.
Elrond gave the wizard a grim look but his eye held a spark of humor. “Aragorn, you must trust us to care for him. You need your rest to fight your own illness, therefore I have decided to have you sedated or you will worry needlessly.”
“No Ada, I want to know what is happening! I will remain awake,” Aragorn insisted.
“Not this time, my son,” Elrond said and retrieving a rose colored vial of liquid from the table. “Mithrandir, if you would assist me please?”
“Of course, my friend,” Gandalf said softly.
Aragorn’s eyes flicked between the two imposing figures feeling cornered but his mind felt foggy with fever and he realized he was too weak to fight them. Elrond tipped the flask into his mouth and Aragorn swallowed dutifully. The Elf lord frowned, Aragorn must be feeling worse than he thought to have taken his medicine without a struggle or further argument. He looked up at Gandalf and saw the same thought echoed on the Istari’s face. “I need to examine him but I must see to Frodo first. Perhaps you could examine him for me and help me determine the cause of this relentless fever, Gandalf?”
“I do have some limited skills…of course, go see to Frodo, I will take care of our stubborn Ranger and let you know of my findings.”
Elrond smiled at the wizards false modesty before rushing to Frodo’s bedside. He looked down at the perfect white face. Frodo had been cut out of his dressing gown so as not to cause further damage to the injured shoulder. The wound was covered by a gauze bandage that had already become soaked through with bright red blood. Elrond crossed to the basin and washed his hands before motioning to Balorian to attend him. The healer retrieved a suturing tray and followed Elrond to the bed. Elrond drew back the gauze and sighed. The wound was oozing blood but it seemed to be slowing. He motioned to Deara and she was immediately by his side. Her face was pale as she spoke.
“My Lord, this is my fault. I should have never left the Ringbearer unattended. Please forgive me.”
Elrond’s eyebrows rose comically. “I hardly think that you are responsible for Master Baggins's misguided performance. He may seem small to us, but he is an adult and therefor responsible for his own actions. He should not need to be watched as if he were a child, Deara.” When Deara tried to explain further Elrond stopped her with a raised hand, “Frodo, no doubt, thought Aragorn was in need and not seeing anyone attending him, acted without regard to his own well-being. It was an honorable act, however foolhardy.”
“If I had been here he would not have had to make such a foolish decision,” Deara replied sadly.
“You cannot be all things to all beings, Deara. I do not hold you accountable and there is no reason for you to feel guilt by what has occurred,” Elrond said with a reassuring smile. He took up the needle and thread and turned back to her, “would you administer a small dose of the ether please. This will be quite painful for Frodo so I would like him to remain unconscious if possible.”
“Yes, my Lord, and thank you,” Deara said with a small smile. She felt better knowing that Elrond did not hold her to blame but still felt responsible just the same.
She cracked the window and placed the cup over Frodo’s nose and mouth and gradually, drop by drop poured the ether onto the mask. After a few moments, Elrond began stitching the small tear in the muscle. Once the tear was repaired the bleeding stopped and he began carefully restitching his previous sutures in the original Morgul wound. Afterwards, he cleaned the wound thoroughly, checking for any other damage, the shoulder was bandaged with a thick pad held in place by long strips of gauze. He washed the shoulder clean of blood and gazed down at the pale face. “Alas Ringbearer, you will not be seeing the bath houses as promised, for many days,” he murmured.
“I will sponge bathe him my Lord,” Deara said with a confused glance, not understanding.
“Yes, but Master Baggins had much desired a real bath. Unfortunately, this little foray will force me to cancel the promised soak. Prepare a hearty broth with extra salt and meat. We need to replace the blood lost and rebuild his strength. He needs to drink more water and juices as well. I will leave you to take care of this for me,” Elrond said. Deara nodded in understanding.
“Elrond, I believe I have determined the source of Aragorn’s fever,” Gandalf called from Aragorn’s bedside.
Elrond left Frodo in Deara’s care noting that the room had returned to its former state. No sign of the previous chaos remained the blood and trampled linens having been removed. He walked to the Ranger’s bedside and looked into the sad eyes of his wizard friend. Gandalf slowly rolled Aragorn onto his side and the elf Lord recoiled at what he saw. Along the Ranger’s spine the decubitus that they had been treating had festered and now thick yellow pus slowly drained from the obviously infected wounds.
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