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Frodo’s eyes flew open. He had never seen his humble gardener and friend so irate. “Sam I…” he began but was quickly shut down by a raised hand, shaking with rage. Frodo had always fought against the idea of “class” when it came to his best friend and the gardener’s family. He had tried and tried to get Sam to call him simply “Frodo” and to treat him as an equal and suddenly he realized that the wrath being directed at him had finally accomplished what he had been unable to achieve all those years. Although Frodo wanted Sam to dismiss the antiquated idea of “place” in the Master/Servant hierarchy, he had to admit that sometimes that engrained sense of “class” had come in handy in manipulating his friend in agreeing to do something that Sam would have normally resisted or disagreed with. The instances were rare as Frodo far preferred Sam as an equal, and he used the manipulation only under the direst of circumstances. Now was one of those times where he would be forced to pull rank on the agitated gardener and threaten to erase any progress he had made over Sam’s lifetime. He glanced over at Merry and Pip, who gawped at Sam’s loss of the ever present acquiescence, and gave them a sly wink. Frodo’s face tensed, brows drawing down sternly and jaw clamped, and he realized that this was no act. “Samwise Gamgee, remember your place, lad,” Frodo said quietly. A tiny flicker of doubt sparked Sam’s hazel eyes, but was gone as fast as it appeared. “I am still your Master though we be far removed from Bag End,” he continued.
Sam normally would have apologized profusely, but not this time. “I mean no disrespect, Mr. Frodo” but I am that angry with you, I am, sir. What are you thinkin’, sir? You can’t mean to leave us all behind, unless you truly are a “Mad Baggins”, Sam exclaimed. Merry and Pip gasped at the insult and Sam to gulped, wondering if he had gone too far.
Frodo’s eyes glittered dangerously, “Careful Sam,” he said softly. It was all well and good to call him “Mad Baggins in jest, something else completely to be so disrespectful and say it to his face.
Aragorn frowned, not understanding the descriptive. Pippin opened his mouth to explain but Merry elbowed him and mouthed “later”, and Pippin’s mouth snapped closed. The ranger studied the group calmly, a slight grin on his lips that Frodo had been found out. Aragorn hoped the hobbit’s kin and friend could talk him out of such foolishness. Suddenly, Merry realized what Sam had said and spun Sam around, pulling him closer and forcing the gardener to face him. “What are you talking about, Sam?” Merry fairly shouted.
“I jes’ overheard two elves a talkin’ about how Mr. Frodo is plannin’ on leaving us all---everyone---at the edge of Rivendell’s border, and goin’ it alone to Mordor on a count of what happened to Mr. Strider, sirs,” he exclaimed, his voice cracking as tears filled his eyes.
Merry and Pip spun on Frodo. Frodo had laid back and closed his eyes, knowing what was coming. “Are you daft? You can’t do this alone! Frodo, use your hobbit’s sense for Eru’s sake,” Merry exclaimed stepping forward, wanting to shake his stubborn cousin.
Frodo’s eyes cracked open and he studied each of them before speaking, “I have thought of nothing else, Merry,” he said calmly. “I mean it when I say I could not live with myself if anything were to happen to any of you. How would I explain to your parents and family that, because of my actions, the future Master of Buckland had perished,” he cried. Then he looked over at Pippin, “How would I ever face Aunt Esme if the future Thain, her only son, were never returned to her, having been struck down because of their “crazy” cousin?” he almost shouted. “I forbid you to come!” he finished forcefully.
“You can’t stop us, Frodo,” Merry said, straightening, his jaw clenched in outright mulishness and his eyes glittered dangerously. “We will follow you.”
“I FORBID it!” Frodo shouted, his face florid as adrenaline pushed him up to sitting, the wound forgotten as he surged forward towards the three. All three jumped back but stood all the taller facing their elder cousin.
“You cannot stop us, Mr. Frodo!” Sam exclaimed.
“We could help you, Frodo,” Pippin plead, his eyes welling with tears. “We aren’t afraid, we could do our part.”
Frodo’s face softened as he looked at his baby cousin, “Oh Pip, I have no doubts as to your bravery and steadfastness, but I will not take you into certain death.”
“Then I must side with Sam and Merry,” Pip said sniffed, turning resolutely.
“I am still your elder, young hobbits, and what I say goes. You will return to the Shire and prepare the defensives in case I fail, that is all there is to it”, Frodo said sternly.
“No Frodo, not this time,” said Merry calmly.
“You cannot stop us from following,” Pip muttered.
“I ain’t leavin’ ya”, Sam swore.
Frodo looked exasperated and, for a moment, Aragorn was heartened that perhaps the hobbit would concede defeat, but then Frodo’s face became closed and resolute and the ranger groaned inwardly.
“Then you leave me no choice,” he said quietly. “I will have to wear the ring in order to escape unseen.”
“WHAT? You ARE mad! If you put it on, Sauron will see you; his wraiths will find you and take both you and the Ring to Baradur. You will be tortured though you beg for mercy, for he has none. He will take the Ring and all of Middle Earth will fall, devastation will reign and your loved ones will perish despite your NOBILE sacrifice to leave them behind,” Aragorn’s voice dripped with sarcasm as he lurched to a sitting position, his good leg swinging from the edge of the bed as if to leap forward to prevent his diminutive friend from placing such evil on his finger.
Frodo smiled wanly at Aragorn, “To prevent that from happening I would suggest you allow me to leave unseen. Otherwise, I will be forced to take such drastic measures.”
“Of all the selfish, manipulative, stupid things to do…”muttered Aragorn.
“Call it what you will, I will not risk anyone else’s life in protecting one duty bound hobbit,” Frodo said with finality. “We came very close to losing our one chance for a new King by you, Aragorn, selflessly pushing me out of danger. You could have lost your life and then Middle Earth would have been leaderless. I will risk no further harm to the company,” Frodo said resolutely.
“Nonsense, I have been through much worse. You cannot stop us if we wish to fight against Sauron, Frodo. And there are other ways to achieve what we need to do, I suggest you do not test us to resort to such unpleasantness,” Aragorn said, his voice lowering dangerously as he leaned in towards the hobbit.
Frodo forced himself not to shrink back or show any fear, although truthfully, the Ranger’s husky voice and facial expression was more that intimidating. “Just try,” Frodo said flatly, locking eyes with the Ranger and calling his bluff. They held each other’s gaze for some moments before Frodo closed his eyes and slumped back against his pillows. His face was pale save for two red splotches on his cheeks. Aragorn reached over in concern and felt for Frodo’s pulse. “I am all right, Aragorn, just…tired,” Frodo whispered and sighed.
Aragorn motioned for Pippin, “Go and retrieve Lord Elrond please,” he said, trying to sound calm for Pippin’s sake.
“Is he all right?” Pip asked, frightened.
“He is fine Master Took, I only wish to consult with Lord Elrond.” He forced a smile onto his lips and grinned up at the hobbit. Pip returned the smile and raced from the room. The smile immediately fled from Aragorn’s face after Pip was gone.
“Is he all right, Strider?” Sam asked quietly.
Aragorn looked over at the hobbits, “I am uncertain that is why I wish for Elrond to examine him. He has expended a large amount of energy within the last half hour or so, and that may be all, but I want to be sure there isn’t some other reason he is so weak,” he had decided to be honest about his worries, knowing the two older hobbits would likely be able to handle the news.
Frodo was completely drained, barely able to turn his head away from Aragorn’s hand. The Ranger slowly moved his hand to the injured shoulder and felt Frodo tense, and begin to tremble. The shoulder was ice cold, “Relax Frodo, I will not harm you,” he whispered comfortingly.
“I am relaxed,” Frodo murmured, and Aragorn smiled as the tension slowly loosened in the small body.
“Sam, please warm a blanket by the fire,” Aragorn said simply.
“I am perfectly fine,” Frodo said grumpily, “Just very tired,” he added in a whisper. Sam looked worriedly at Aragorn.
“I am certain he will be fine, Sam. Arguing and fighting with others with such vitriol is exhausting work,” the ranger said with a forced grin. In truth he was alarmed at how quickly Frodo had weakened. He knew the hobbit had lost a lot of blood in his foray to Aragorn’s bedside, but this should have quickly been restored with all of the soups and liquids that had been forced on his friend. Unless he is still bleeding from somewhere, he mused. But Elrond had re-stitched the wound, surely he would have seen if it was bleeding unduly, he ruminated. He decided to discuss the issue with his foster father. Frodo’s coloring was still quite pale but he had become more relaxed as he grew used to the ranger’s hand resting lightly on his shoulder. Sam returned with an almost too hot, blanket and draped it over Frodo’s torso and left shoulder.
“Ahh…oh, Sam, that is lovely,” he whispered.
“Mr. Frodo…I …I hope I haven’t given ya a turn, sir?”
Frodo tried to smile and tell Sam that he was fine, but his eyelids were so heavy. He heard some mumbled, unintelligible words, before allowing himself to escape into sleep. “Mr. Strider, it weren’t because o’ us, were it that he’s so suddenly tired?”
“Frodo’s wakeful moments will increase as he recovers, Sam,” Aragorn dodged. “He carries a heavy burden.”
Sam frowned at his Master and Strider, “What aren’t you tellin’ me, sir?” he asked pointedly.
“Allow me to confer with Gandalf and Elrond, then we will talk further,” he said quietly.
Elrond and Pippin entered followed by Gandalf. “You asked for me, Estel?” Elrond greeted his foster son.
Aragorn switched to elvish and the hobbits scowled as they listened. Elrond turned and said, “Gentlemen, would please excuse us while we discuss Frodo’s treatment,” Merry looked as if he would refuse but the elf Lord’s sharp, steady stare convinced him he would lose that argument. He gathered the others and they quit the room, sparing Frodo a last look before closing the door.
“Ada, does it not seem odd that Frodo’s strength has yet to recover? We have been safely back at Imladris for two months now and while I am beginning to return to health, Frodo is as weak now as he was when we were rescued.”
Elrond studied the hobbit’s face, noting the paleness; the thinness of his frame. He placed a gentle hand on Frodo’s forehead and the hobbit sighed. “He still is not eating as much as he should,” Elrond murmured out loud. “We have so little experience with wounds of this type; none have survived before for us to study.” He turned to Aragorn, “I must confess, I do not know how to stop this malaise.”
Aragorn’s eyes widened, he had rarely heard the elf Lord admit he was unable to cure an ailment, not that there had been many. The look on Aragorn’s face must have been comical as Elrond broke into a broad grin. “Yes, even I have doubts and shortcomings,” he laughed. “We have not been idle, my son. Balorian has been working on a promising curative but getting Frodo to take it willingly will be a challenge,” he said with a smirk.
“If he continues to weaken it may not be an issue, Ada,” Aragorn said softly.
Elrond frowned, “I have not mentioned this to anyone save Balorian,” he said speaking elvish in a low voice and locking eyes with both Aragorn and Gandalf, “The wound is not healing well. It looks much like it did when Frodo was first injured. I may have to open it a third time.”
Gandalf looked sadly down at his dusty boots and heaved a great sigh, “How many of these procedures can he endure? What do you suspect is the problem?”
“I am uncertain. Frodo shows no external signs of bleeding—there is no swelling, which I would expect if his tissues continued to fill with blood. It could be that his impaired immunity is preventing his mending; it could be depression or worry, it could be he is not resting because of his nightmares, therefore, not thriving. It is possible that some residual artifact may have been overlooked and is still within the wound. But mostly….I believe it is the Ring itself that is robbing Frodo of his energies and keeping him from healing. As the Ring‘s power grows in strength, Frodo becomes weaker. It is a parasite, robbing him of sleep, peace and appetite. It feeds him lies that foretell of dire consequence to befall all he cares for should he include them in his journey.”
Aragorn’s eyes flew open, “It is the Ring that has convinced him that should we accompany him, we will perish!”
“I am not certain, but this seems to be the most logical of explanations for his continued lethargy. Frodo already harbors this fear and the Ring has twisted it into a certainty in Frodo’s mind. I believe the Ring and Frodo are engaged in a great war of wills with one another and it is this that has robbed him of any progress he should have made in his recuperation. After re-injuring his wound, draining the Ringbearer’s strength would be easily done, as It continues to prey on his self-doubt and worry.”
“How can we help him? There must be something we can do!” Aragorn asked worriedly. He looked at Frodo who was frowning as he slept, and placed his hand on the hobbit’s forehead, smoothing the frown away as Frodo sighed.
“His body needs to grow in strength in order for Frodo to fight back against the power of the Ring. And,” he hesitated, “we will need to remove the Ring from Frodo’s neck,” Elrond said softly.
Gandalf’s bushy eyebrows climbed to his hairline. “You will break him should you take it from him. I cannot allow that,” he said with authority.
Elrond gave the Istari a wan smile. “I have no intention of taking the Ring from Frodo, but I think we should consider placing it perhaps, under his pillow or somewhere that is not directly against his skin.”
Gandalf seemed to consider this for a moment. “I would not like to see Elves tunneling through piles of laundry searching for the Ring, should it be taken out with the dirty linens,” he mused. Both Aragorn and Elrond broke into wide grins. “Perhaps a small pocket could be sewn on the underside of the pillowcase to keep it secure, yet remain close by the Bearer.”
Elrond nodded, “As I thought as well. Perhaps, if it has some small distance from our dear hobbit, its voice may “dim” slightly, allowing Frodo the rest he needs.” He looked over at Aragorn, “We need to test the new medicine that Balorian has been working on. It is an elixir that has promise and I believe it will finally get our Ringbearer on the path to wellness. However,” he turned away, rubbing his temples, “it is quite unpalatable. Balorian is striving to improve the palatability but thus far we have had little success.”
Aragorn’s eyes twinkled, “It is hard to cure a morgul wound if the patient will not take the medicine.”
“Indeed,” Elrond said with a smile. “We have one last option and that is to make the elixir into a powder by boiling and evaporating the supernatant. Since it smells utterly foul, Balorian has moved his laboratory temporarily downwind of Imladris, into the woods a few miles off.”
“It must be foul indeed!” exclaimed Gandalf.
“The elixir is quite amazing in its curative properties as an antibiotic, a blood cleanser, appetite stimulator and a soporific all in one. The soporific qualities should allow Frodo to finally get the dreamless rest he so desperately needs.”
“It sounds like a magical curative indeed! I should very much like to know what the ingredients are,” Aragorn exclaimed.
Elrond studied Aragorn carefully, an idea taking shape on how to test this new medicine. “My son, to what limits would you go to see Frodo returned to health, making a full recovery?” he asked softly.
“Why Ada, I would do anything for Frodo,” he said without hesitation. Then he saw the look in Elrond’s eye and heard the soft chuffing coming from Gandalf in the corner. He looked between them, both smiled back at him and Gandalf gave him a wink. “Oh…nonononono….I am sure there is another elf or member of the delegation…perhaps Merry or Pippin? It would keep them from causing havoc for a few days,” he said hopefully, looking imploringly at Elrond.
Elrond smiled, “Although that is tempting I prefer to test its effectiveness on someone else who could reap the curative’s benefits and since you are also a healer, you could give us further insights as to how the formula is working and offer suggestions on improvement.”
Aragorn sputtered, “Ada, I am much better. I hardly need improvement and you should concentrate on Frodo’s health. I would worry that the size difference between us would give you erroneous data and I wouldn’t want you and Balorian to not have enough to treat Frodo by using it all on me…” He looked quite frantic as he tried to give Elrond pause.
Elrond gave him a rare, huge smile, “I appreciate your concerns, Estel, but trust me, I have more than enough elixir for both of you, and anyone else who should need it.” The elf Lord’s face changed, returning to its normal solemn and grim mien, as he knelt down in front of Aragorn, “What would you do to assure Frodo made a complete recovery, my son?” he asked again.
Aragorn looked steadily into Elrond’s eyes and said without hesitation, “I would give my life for his, Lord Elrond.”
Elrond nodded in satisfaction, “Then you will agree to test the elixir?”
The ranger blanched, “I will,” he said simply, looking over at his restless comrade. “I will,” he whispered firmly.
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