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The Time of Probing  by Larner


            Celebfiniel was carrying the crystal bottle away when Master Elrond and Gandalf arrived at the door.  She curtseyed with that special grace that was natural to the Elves and disappeared down the hallway, passing Strider as he approached the room.  Strider was closely followed by Bilbo, Merry, and Pippin.  Bilbo was doing his best not to weep, Merry appeared rebellious, and Pippin simply appeared overwhelmed.  Merry looked up to meet Elrond’s eye.  “We want to see him, before you try to get the shard out of him.  Just in case….”

            “We understand, Master Meriadoc,” Elrond said gently.  “And he will undoubtedly do the better being reminded that you love him.  It will help to tie him to this life.”

            Some of the stiffness in the Brandybuck’s posture relaxed at that.  Apparently he’d feared the three of them would be denied the chance to see Frodo at all, and the thought that they might not be able to assure him of their love had been driving him to distraction.  They came to stand by the bed and remained quiet for a moment, their faces all going paler as they realized how much weaker he appeared compared to just last night.  Merry at last got up his courage and stepped closer, reaching to grasp Frodo’s right hand.  “Well, older cousin, they think that this time they can get that thing out of there.  I so hope so!  Stay with us, dear Frodo.  Stay with us.  Mum will never forgive me if I try to come home without you, you know.”  At a sign from Elrond, he took up the tray with the Ring upon it and took it with him.

            Pippin couldn’t seem to find words for once.  He held Frodo’s hand in his turn, and his mouth worked.  At last he leaned over and kissed the hand he held, and stepped back hastily to allow Bilbo his turn.  

            “Well, lad, I wanted to let you know how very, very proud of you I am.  Don’t let go, Frodo, my dear boy.  Don’t let go!”  The older Hobbit’s voice was shaking with emotion, and he carefully rubbed his thumb over back of Frodo’s hand, tracing the blue of the blood vessels so easily seen through skin that appeared almost transparent.  He looked up to search Elrond’s eyes, obviously not fully reassured by the calm surety he saw there.  “You do your best by him, you hear me?” he asked.

            “We will, Bilbo,” Elrond answered.

            Bilbo leaned as far over as he could to kiss Frodo’s brow, tenderly brushed the younger Hobbit’s hair back, and finally let go of his hand, laying it gently down on the counterpane, and turned away, no longer trying to hide his tears or trembling lips.  Strider accompanied them out, his hands on Bilbo’s shoulders, and before the door closed behind them Sam could see the Ranger kneel down to draw the old Hobbit to him, where Bilbo wept silently against the Man’s shoulder.

            The high table with its thin mattress was in place, as were other tables holding instruments and basins of water and stacks of clean cloths.  Strider came in as Elrond saw to Mr. Frodo’s needs, and rolled leaves of kingsfoil between his fingers, breathing upon them with a soundless benediction before dropping them into a steaming bowl of water held by Meliangiloreth.  At last Frodo’s nightshirt was removed and he was lifted with great gentleness onto the table and his mouth and nose gently covered with gauze.  Meliangiloreth now wound bandages about the mouths and noses of Strider and Master Elrond both, while Arwen helped Sam to sit upon a high stool that had been brought in for his use.  Lights and mirrors were set into place and adjusted, and at last all was ready.

            Gandalf came quietly to stand by Sam, and set one of his clever hands upon the Hobbit’s shoulder.  “He’ll do well enough, Sam,” the Wizard murmured, as much, Sam surmised, to reassure himself as to do so for the gardener.

            “I hope as you’ve got the right of it,” Sam whispered back.

            Elrond suddenly gave the Wizard a piercing look.  “Do you know,” he asked, his voice barely muffled by the cloth over his lower face, “what has been twisted in order for the Morgul knives to do their work?”

            Gandalf looked surprised and puzzled by the question.  “No, I must say that I do not.  Why?”

            Elrond shrugged.  “We know that the Enemy cannot create anything new, but can only twist what was there already as part of the original Song of Creation.  There must be some other process that was twisted to cause the victim to become a wraith.  Also, from what realm was the wraith world wrested?”

            Strider glanced between his foster father and the Wizard, but said nothing.  He returned his attention to their patient, and cleansed the place where Frodo had been stabbed, using a cloth that had been dipped into the kingsfoil liquid. Gandalf held his staff close to his breast and closed his eyes, leaning his forehead against the flame-shaped knot of roots that topped it.  Elrond held out his hand for the slim knife he would use.  Arwen bent her head over the bowl. 

            “Do you see it, sell nín?” Elrond asked.

            “Not yet.  A moment.”

            They waited.  And waited.  “I see it!” she said suddenly.  “It is barely a hair’s breadth from the great artery, Ada!  Not free yet.  Not free yet.  Wait, my beloved Ada.  Wait.”

            Sam found it difficult to breathe.  Gandalf lifted his head, letting his staff to lean sideways now, and squeezed the Hobbit’s shoulder to hearten him.  He had a strange smile.  “Where does your thought take you, my friend, when you wield the power granted you?” he asked Elrond.  The Master of Rivendell gave the Wizard a surprised look, and suddenly his eyes gleamed with an understanding that Sam could not share.

            “Almost,” Arwen breathed softly, her own attention focused solely on whatever she saw within her bowl.  “Almost.  It hopes to evade you, I think.  It is as if it realizes that you await the one moment when it must move free of the great blood vessels, and hopes that you will wait that instant too long.  Ah, but it has begun to move now in earnest.  Now, Adar!”

            Elrond cut decisively while Aragorn held a device intended to spread apart the ribs just enough to allow the tool to reach where it must.  Meliangiloreth’s hands moved so swiftly Sam barely had time to realize that the healer had now a pair of fine tongs rather than the slim knife he’d used only the moment before.

            “No, more to your left, Ada.”

            Elrond adjusted the angle of the tongs, suddenly dipped them into the wound—

            --and brought out something that gleamed dully, dripping with red blood, in the light of the many lamps.

            A wooden plate covered with a thin square of silk was held out by someone, and Elrond moved to lay the shard there, only the shard twisted free from the tongs, trying its best to fall again onto Frodo’s chest!

            “No, you don’t!” the healer said decisively, and the plate was thrust directly under it so that it caught the shard as it fell.  Even Sam felt the wave of frustration given off ere the shard went quiescent.  Elrond began a song in a tongue that the gardener didn’t recognize, and first Glorfindel and then Gandalf joined in.  Sam could feel the hair on his toes standing up as well as the hair on the back of his neck—there was Power in that song he didn’t think he’d ever heard before.  He seemed to see Light focusing down on the form of Frodo Baggins, focusing upon him, and moving through his body as the song rose in joy and triumph—and finished!

            The shard no longer gleamed at all, instead lying dead and without purpose upon the wooden plate and the now stained silk.

            “I will take it out into the sunlight and see it melted fully,” Glorfindel said.  Sam was surprised to realize that the golden warrior had been there throughout, along with others who had sung over Frodo before.  “Mithrandir—come with me to witness its destruction!”

            Elrond’s fingers were already busy staunching the blood, reaching for a shining curved needle that appeared to be threaded with a strand of gossamer, making stitches within the wound, then carefully doing the same on the skin….

            As slowly as all had begun, yet it was finished with a swiftness that Sam could not quite believe.


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