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The Time of Probing  by Larner


            Sam found himself lying across the foot of Frodo’s bed, a pillow under his head, and the lovely Lady Arwen looking down upon him with a mixture of concern and humor in her beautiful, star-filled grey eyes.  “Do you feel better, Master Samwise?” she asked.

            “What happened?  Was it but a dream?” he asked.  He was surprised at how raspy his voice sounded.

            “You fainted,” she informed him.  “As soon as you knew that all had been accomplished you started to slip right off of your stool.  I just barely caught you before you hit the floor!  Here, sit up and you shall have a sip of cordial to help you steady yourself.”

            She held a small cup in her hand for him to sip from, and he found that it was miruvor, the same drink that Glorfindel had given them while they were still approaching the valley.  He had to admit he felt better once he’d swallowed the sweet liquor.  Strider was giving him swift glances as he and Elrond saw Frodo properly bandaged, and Meliangiloreth was pouring out a second small cup of the miruvor as they worked.

            “Sit still for a few moments, Sam, so that you do not become dizzy once more,” Strider cautioned.

            “I feel a right fool, faintin’ when all’s over,” Sam said, rubbing at his head.

            Elrond was smiling.  “It is not that unusual a thing, Master Samwise.  Once it is known that the worst did not happen after all, it is only natural to feel such relief that one feels lightheaded.  Your Master does very well indeed, now that the shard is gone.  His heart is beating more strongly by the minute, I deem, and his breathing is improving as well.

            There was a knock at the door, and Gandalf and the smith came in with no further invitation.  The Wizard appeared greatly relieved.  “The shard melted straight away once sunlight fell upon it, and both the plate and the cloth have been burned.  At least that knife cannot be used on any other.”  He examined what he could see of Frodo’s face.  “Already there is more color to his skin, and he appears to have more substance to him.  We could not have afforded to wait yet another instant!”

            Elrond nodded absently, his attention on seeing the final knot tied properly even as Strider was holding out a cloth to cleanse around the bandaging.  A clean nightshirt lay nearby, ready for use.  Elrond commented, “I rejoice that Arwen was able to use scrying to observe the shard as she did.  Knowing when to cut and where, and where the shard was in relation to the tongs helped mightily.”  He straightened and accepted the cloth, and used it to cleanse away the last traces of blood from Frodo’s breast.  Then he was drawing the nightshirt over the Hobbit’s head and settling it over his body.  When Meliangiloreth held out the small cup to him he took it and held it to Frodo’s lips.  All breathed an additional sigh of relief as Frodo swallowed it properly right away.

            Frodo was settled back in the bed, supported in a nearly sitting position by a number of cushions and pillows.  Strider settled himself by Frodo and began feeding him sips of broth while the smith held out a box lined with silk.  “I hope, my lord,” he said, “that this will serve.  If you, Mithrandir, Lady Arwen, and Lord Aragorn will come together to empower this—and the Ringbearer’s companion as well—we will do our best to see this readied to carry the Ring so that all are best protected from Its direct influence.”

            Sam, who’d been sitting at the foot of the bed to this point, was aided by Lady Arwen to shift around onto his knees.  Strider set aside his bowl with a clean cloth over it to keep dust out of the broth and joined the others there near the foot of the bed, leaning his head with the rest over the box as the silk was pulled away to display what appeared to be a simple if strong silver chain with what appeared to be braided links, through which hairs had been woven.  “If you will rely on your native powers rather than what the Ring Itself might twist,” the smith cautioned them, “I believe it will be most appropriate.”

            Elrond and Gandalf exchanged glances Sam felt were somehow significant, and both nodded.  Gandalf held his staff close to himself and again his gaze went briefly distant, while the Lady Arwen brought out the Evenstar gem and held it out to Strider so that he might touch it, too.  At last Elrond gave the smith a nod indicating that he felt they were all ready.  The smith gave Sam a searching look.  “We will sing, and we ask only that you concentrate your will to the good.  If you feel moved to add to the song, do so and know that it is welcome, no matter how your own song may sound with those of the others.  Does this seem reasonable, Master Samwise?”

            Sam wasn’t too certain what was meant by all of this, but trusted that he couldn’t do any particular harm, so he indicated he was ready with the rest.

            The smith started the song, and he appeared to be singing of beauty beneath the light of shining stars reflected from the surface of pure water.  Elrond sang of the coming of Light to the joy of all creatures.  Gandalf sang of Power, of how it could be wielded and how it might be abused.  Strider sang of the transient nature of life, and how it might be changed in an instant.  Arwen sang of beauty and growth, and of the balance between Light, Breath, and Song.  And Sam found himself singing of simple things, good food, warmth and company, clean drink, a light heart, and of learning more and more over time.

            The songs joined, wove together in an intricate harmony, and all wound about the silver links and the strands of hair run through them, and Sam could see those three hairs braiding together—the Lady Arwen’s almost black, Glorfindel’s golden as the Sun, and that of Missus Esmeralda Took Brandybuck a warm brown much like that of Merry himself, far longer in truth than it at first appeared, as curly as it was.

            Glorfindel joined them, and he sang of the futility of those who believe that the ability to inflict death indicates they hold power, for Life is more than merely the life of the body.  The song swelled in its own power, and the gem held between the hands of Man and Elf maiden gleamed in light that entered through the curtains and was reflected by the mirrors used earlier to increase the light on Elrond’s cutting.  Meliangiloreth was singing now, too, of healing offered by time and the skilled caring of others.  The door opened again, and the harpist Lindir ushered in the three Hobbits who’d waited outside the room, Merry clutching the wooden tray holding the Ring close to him as he assured himself that Frodo yet lived and was recovering even as they sang.  Bilbo raised a children’s song about the alphabet and how letters weave together to form words, and how with words we can say anything we wish.  Pippin started singing a shepherd’s song about searching for and finding a lost sheep, and how glad the shepherd was to find the one out of a hundred who had wandered away and put itself into danger but was now safe once more.  And Merry was singing one of the songs sung in Buckland and the Marish about the River, and how it runs forever, rising and falling but never truly failing.  Lindir drew a small harp from his shoulder and began weaving its silver tones into the music, and again the power swelled about the chain, and the hairs wove themselves more tightly together.  Three crystal beads were worked into the clasp, Sam saw, and he realized that each was a gem in its own right.  When there was need they would allow the clasp to open readily; otherwise they would guard the chain’s integrity.  And he was glad, and sang more strongly of hearth and home, and gardens growing bright and full of color and scent beneath Sun and Moon….

            The smith gave Sam a significant look, and the gardener moved aside the silk on the tray to reveal the Ring, and he lifted It up, allowing the smith to drop the chain through Its circle and to engage the clasp.  The smith surrendered the chain to Strider, who took a deep breath, and after a moment the Man carefully slipped it over Frodo’s head, allowing the Ring to lie against Frodo’s breast.

            Frodo took a long, shuddering breath, and his fingers lifted of their own volition to gently touch the metal.  The furrow between his brows smoothed, and his expression became more solemn, almost sad.  But he turned his head and relaxed into a deeper, truer sleep as the songs began to fade away until only Bilbo’s voice could still be heard, singing the names of the letters in turn.

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