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The Time of Probing  by Larner



            The voice was familiar, but at the same time had a level of authority to it that Sam did not recognize.  He startled fully awake, finding himself staring upwards at an absurdly high ceiling he wasn’t certain he’d paid attention to before.  He couldn’t place himself, and couldn’t place the voice, either.

            Rolling toward the voice, he realized that he was in the room given to Frodo in Elrond’s house, and that he was lying upon his pallet near the wall, facing the foot of the bed on which Frodo slept.  Strider—it was Strider’s voice he’d heard.  Strider stood on one side of the bed, and the Lady Arwen stood upon the other, and Elrond stood on the far side of Strider, one hand upon Frodo’s forehead while the Elf woman and the Man each had a hand lying on Frodo’s breast.  There was an unusual light to be seen under their fingers where they touched one another, a soft, pale white glow that somehow was reassuring, as if some balance were being restored.  Although he didn’t understand what it was he was seeing, Sam Gamgee was glad for it, for he sensed that if it made him feel reassured hopefully it was doing much the same for his Master.

            “Frodo!”  Strider leaned over the Hobbit’s body, staring intently into Frodo’s face, and it was as if he were somehow willing Frodo to return to them.  “Do not wander so in darkness!”

            There was a low muttering from the stricken Hobbit, and Sam heard the faintest rustle of the bedclothes as if his head were turning slightly.

            There was that fresh scent to the room that indicated to Sam that Strider had used the kingsfoil again—or at least someone had done so.  Elrond turned away from their patient to a bowl that lay upon the chest by the head of the bed, and drew from it a white cloth, with which he wiped Frodo’s forehead and then the rest of his face and then his hands.

            “I think that is enough, children,” he said to the Man and the maid.  “His spirit is no longer wandering, although the memories of what has happened to him still roil in his mind.”

            Strider straightened, slowly drawing his hand away from that of the Lady Arwen, sighing as he drew upright.  “It is good to know he is not likely to drift away from us now,” he said.  “I thank you, my Lady, for allowing me to touch your gem’s power.”

            “I believe that it worked the better for the both of us using it together,” Arwen answered, slipping a chain over her head and adjusting her hair that it not be caught by the pendant jewel she now wore again.  “There is now one more layer of protection between his spirit and the intent of the shard within his shoulder.”

            “But how long that layer might last we cannot be certain,” her father said as he returned the cloth to the bowl.  “We ought to be able to best remove the shard in another day, I think.  If you will bring with you the Evenstar gem then, sell nín, we will be able to use its power to help ward him from the worst of the memories that the shard will undoubtedly seek to leave in the depths of his heart.  Certainly it helped to buy time for your naneth when she was the one who had been stricken.”

            The lady indicated her agreement, and after gently drawing her hand across Frodo’s brow she withdrew, giving a gentle bow of her head to her father and the Man who stood by his side before she quitted the room.

            Gandalf entered before the door had a chance to quite swing shut, followed by Pippin, who held the tray on which the Ring lay.  “And it worked?” he asked.

            “Temporarily, at least,” Elrond told him.  “He responded well to the gem’s power.  I almost wish he could wear it for a time, although it does not respond anywhere as well as long as it is anywhere near to the Ring.  Thank you, Master Took, for taking It to the other room while we worked over him.”

            “Does the Ring make the gem stop working?” Pippin asked, setting the tray back on the bed by Frodo’s hand.

            “No—it is more that the power of the Ring tends to disturb the balance that the Evenstar gem seeks to settle.”

            “I never thought of gems being able to be used to do things with,” Pippin said as he leaned forward to search Frodo’s face.  “So that is a magic stone?”

            “Not so much magic as empowered by whichever smith wrought it,” Elrond said.  “Its power is to help restore balance between one’s Light of Being, breath, and the place one holds within the Song of Creation.”

            “I see,” Pippin said, although Sam wasn’t certain that Pippin understood what the Elf had said any better than he himself had.  The Took momentarily set his hand against Frodo’s cheek.  “At least he’s not feverish any more, not as he was last evening.  And his breathing is better.”

            “We should think on a manner in which he might carry the Ring, one in which he will be both able to reassure himself by touch that It has not escaped him, and that could somehow serve as a buffer so that he is not tormented by It constantly,” suggested the Wizard.

            “His device of securing It within his pockets with a fine chain was an excellent one,” noted Elrond, “but it is not a certain one.  Such chains as he used are fragile, and it was already much weakened by the constant touch of the Ring upon it, to the point that It almost was ready once more to escape.  Perhaps a locket such as Isildur used to carry it?”

            “I think that Bilbo was the one who started using something to bind it within his pocket,” Pippin noted.  “When I’d play at dress-up with his clothes when I was a child I found most of his trousers and waistcoats had the same types of loops in them as Frodo has in his.  Sam’s sisters thought it an odd affectation by the Bagginses, to fix such loops into their pockets, and they’d discuss it at times after they’d done Bilbo and Frodo’s laundry.”

            “Well, we’ve seen over the past few days how not wearing clothing that has pockets in them makes it harder to keep the Ring by him close enough to reassure him,” Gandalf said.  “Perhaps on a chain about his neck?  I doubt we have enough time to have such a locket as Isildur had made for It forged.”

            “I’ll speak with the smiths,” Elrond said.  “Boraënur may have some ideas.”  He sighed as he straightened and glanced down at Sam.  “You finally appear to have had some more proper rest, Master Gamgee.  Would you like to accompany young Master Took here to the rooms of refreshment and the bathing room, and then to the dining hall?  It would do you good to be out of this room for a time, and to have your spirit refreshed.  And from what those on duty in the stables tell me, your excellent pony would appreciate a visit from you.  He spends much time near the pasture fence watching toward the doors, looking for your coming forth.  He also needs reassurance that all is well with your Master and with you.”

            Sam realized he was glad to have a reason to leave the sickroom for a time, and found a good bath to be refreshing indeed.  When he went to put on his clothing, however, it was to find that it was not only Frodo Baggins for whom the seamstresses of Rivendell had prepared new clothing.  If it weren’t for the fact that each garment was truly new and that there was subtle embroidery quite different from Daisy’s work all about the hems and about the placket of the shirt, he would have taken them for his own clothing, made for him by his sister Daisy and her husband Moro, who between them ran a shop given to tailoring and embroidery there in Hobbiton.  Pippin was watching him with interest, and commented, “The fabric was woven there in the Shire, and I’ll swear that the wool for the trousers was from my own mother’s spindle and loom, Sam.  Bilbo was telling me yesterday that some of the sales we Tooks make to dealers in the far North-farthing go to agents for Strider’s people, and that then some of that comes here.  I understand that they believe that we in the Shire produce the finest woolens anywhere.  Can you imagine?  I’d never have guessed that the rest of the people of Eriador compete to purchase woolen cloth made right there in the Tooklands!”

            “Then you have new clothes, too?” Sam asked.

            Pippin nodded.  “We all do, it seems.  Of course, considering the state of what we were wearing when we got here and how we lost what we did in the Barrow-downs, you have to agree we needed some new clothes!  And since Bilbo lives here they’re used to making things that meet with Hobbit sensibilities and that wouldn’t be seen as outlandish there at home.  But even my sister Pearl would be hard pressed to do as fine a seam as I’ve found on these,” he added, displaying the side seam for the trousers he was now wearing.  “Merry’s dad has always said that we ought to be trading more outside the Shire, with Men, he supposed.  How surprised he might be to find out that we have been doing so all along!  And since it’s proved that Strider’s the Chieftain of the northern Dúnedain people, it seems I might be in a position to arrange good trading agreements between our people and his!”

            “Chieftain of who?”

            “The name of his people is the Dúnedain, or so Bilbo told Merry and me yesterday.  It’s the proper name for the Rangers’ folk.”

            “And Strider’s their Chief?”  Sam remembered what both the Man and Gandalf had told him of Strider being the rightful heir to the Last-king, and felt his scalp ripple.  “Oh, yes—of course he’s their Chief!”  So saying, he shook his head in the wonder of it.  Pippin was already gathering up their damp towels and their used clothing and placing them in the basket to be washed.  With that he led the way to the dining hall, and they found themselves joining Merry and Bilbo for breakfast.

            Afterwards Pippin accompanied Sam out to the stables, the two of them laden with carrots, apples, and a sticky bun that Pippin insisted on bringing to share with Bill.  They found Bill in a field just north of the stables, another pony with a grey muzzle near him, both cropping the autumn grass slowly and steadily, Bill’s coat brushed clean of weeks’ worth of dirt and chaff, and already looking better fed than he’d been two days since.  His head lifted as he heard the voices of the two Hobbits, and a light came into his eyes.  As Sam reached the rail fence Bill was there to meet him, butting his nose into the gardener’s chest in greeting.

             “Now, if that ain’t the finest fellow!” Sam crooned, offering him one of the apples, which Bill accepted happily, turning his head to allow his ears to be fondled while he crunched on the offering. 

            The Elf who’d come to sing over Mister Frodo stood smiling down on them.  “He is indeed a gracious beast, and one who has given his fealty to you full willing,” he said.  “He recognizes those who are honorable and worthy of his love, and gives it readily.  He will grow stronger while you remain here, and will gladly go with you once you are ready to leave us for whatever destination it is your fate to pursue.”

            Bill accepted half of Pippin’s bun with great delicacy, appearing as glad of its sweetness as was the young Hobbit, and the rest of their offerings they gave into the stableman’s hands to see them bestowed judiciously over the length of the day that he not become glutted by too many good things received at once, and after assuring the good beast of their joy to see him and that Master Frodo had been well served by him, they at last returned to the Last Homely House, reassured that all was well with the one who’d so carefully carried Frodo over the last two weeks of their journey.


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