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The Time of Probing  by Larner


            When he awoke a meal awaited him, light by Hobbit standards but still filling.  He ate and dressed, and went out intending to visit the room of refreshment.  Merry and Pippin were in the hallway, however, facing Gandalf and Lord Elrond, and it was plain that the Brandybuck and the Took were not happy.

            “And why can’t we see him now?” Merry was demanding.

            “Because he has returned to sleep.”

            Pippin’s voice was insistent as he argued, “But he’s done nothing but sleep for days!  Just how much more sleep does he need?”

            The Master of Rivendell gave one of those shrugs that no mortal could ever properly imitate.  “His body has undergone a number of shocks over the past few weeks, and it will not mend in a day.  We only removed the shard yesterday----”

            Merry jumped in, “But you said he should awaken today!”

            “And so he did.”

            “But no one sent for us!”

            “He was not yet ready to deal with excitement.  He will be allowed to come to the feast tonight, but it is still likely that he will find himself feeling overwhelmed, even though the meal shall be fairly formal and peaceful by the standards of mortals.  And if it appears that he is beginning to flag or grow stressed he will be encouraged to return to his room to sleep again. 

            “Know this—we in this house are able to encourage healing and more rapid recovery from most illnesses and wounds, but there is a limit to how swiftly the body can rebuild that which was damaged.  As a Hobbit, he can be expected to heal already more rapidly than would a Man or a Dwarf, and I suspect that the Ring Itself has played a part in the fact he is reported to have been seldom ill since It came to him.  It may also seek to lend Its power to his recovery now, for It undoubtedly wishes him stronger that It might lead him where It would go or to those It can influence to take It from him and speed It on Its way back to Its Master.  There is little enough that It can do while inside this valley, for Its Master has never had power here.  In spite of that, however, It has still sought to capture the attention of several of my people, although not since It was placed upon the chain from which It now hangs.  So, Its best strategy at this point would be to bring him back to health and strength as rapidly as possible so that he can be encouraged to leave our boundaries.  But such apparent rapid healing can be illusory.  If he can be encouraged to believe he is stronger than he actually is and more capable than what he can actually do, that works to Its advantage.  He already spoke with Gandalf more than was wise, and his sleep as a result is deeper yet less restful than I wish to see in him so early in his recovery.  The faster his wounds heal, the more energy it drains from him.  Between what we have done to see the cut flesh knit and what the Ring might be doing to him, he will need a good deal of rest and good food.  And there will be the council tomorrow to which he must come.  We do not wish the draining of his energy involved in his healing to impair his ability to reason or to speak in a politic manner.”

            “What council?” asked Merry.

            Elrond indicated the whole of his house about them.  “Many have come from throughout the northern lands, and from both sides of the Hithaeglir.  What little we have learned so far indicates that Mordor’s messengers have come to many doors demanding information on Halflings and Baggins.  We must learn what it is that they seek, and why they want word of where lies the Shire.”

            “They already found that.”  Merry’s voice was flat, and Sam realized that this news frightened the Master’s son and heir.

            “We know.” 

            The three Hobbits and the peredhil lord remained quiet for a time, all of them thinking on the implications of what Elrond had just told them.  The door to the room opened and Bilbo came out to join them, his quick intelligence noting the tension that those gathered here showed.  At last Gandalf spoke.  “He will most likely sleep now until late afternoon, after which I shall be encouraging him to rise and go outside into the open air some before the feast.  Too long has he been confined to a single room and a bed.  He needs now to be up and doing—some.  From what I remember of Lord Boromir after the shard of a similar knife was removed from his shoulder, he was somewhat disoriented once he awoke, and it took three days before he was fully himself again.  Frodo appears to be perfectly aware, but still you can see that even as you speak with him his eyes will go somewhat unfocused.  I saw no indication that his ability to follow a conversation is badly affected, but still he is not yet fully oriented to his surroundings.  To be reintroduced to full involvement with life too rapidly may prove as stressful as the possible draining effect of rapid healing upon his body, whether induced by the inhabitants of this valley or by the Ring.”

            Now he spoke directly to Merry and Pippin.  “So, my friends, I suggest that you two go out upon one of the balconies nearby and wait.  I have promised Elrond here that I shall not smoke around Frodo unless he is fully awake.  However, once that happens I intend to remind him of what he knows to be comfortable by smoking in his presence.  If there is one thing that I have realized in my life of dealing with peoples of all races, those memories associated with certain odors can provoke emotions and reactions that can work to both the good and the ill.  And one’s thoughts affect one’s ability to heal.  The odor of pipe weed reminds him that he is a Hobbit of the Shire and that he has known comfort and relative safety all through his life.  Elrond has agreed that, in the hopes of more easily drawing him back to full awareness once more, we shall seek to use the scent of pipe smoke and good food to inspire him to emotional as well as physical recovery.  So, keep an eye on the window, and when you see the smoke of my pipe be ready to greet him as you ordinarily would on his rousing from a nap.  And, Sam, go with them, and when you see the smoke, go to the kitchens to fetch the tray they will have ready.  He will need a light repast to sustain him until he is brought to the feast.”

            “Will you join them, mellon nín?” Elrond asked Bilbo.

            But the old Hobbit shook his head.  “No—it’s becoming too cold for these old bones.  Let the young ones go outside so late in the season—I am thinking of going into the Hall of Fire.  Lindir has challenged me to finish that lay I began so precipitously at Midsummer and perhaps present it to the company after the feast.  And I will be honest—I find I do not enjoy feasts as much as I once did.  Just fairly plain food, and plenty of it, is enough for me.  Oh, that is with a measure of good wine, of course.  If the Prince of Mirkwood was sufficiently thoughtful to bring you as a gift a few bottles of Dorwinion wine, I will admit that that would be quite the treat.  It was very good, as I recall it.  By the way, did those in the kitchens send him an extra plate of honey buns as I requested?  I do feel that I owe him those.  I will admit that when I was caught inside his father’s fortress I became far too cheeky and would steal them right off of his plate.”  Then, turning toward the others, “And when you see him, do not tell Frodo that I am here.  Let me be a pleasant surprise!  It shall be my way of paying him back for the days of worry and waiting he has cost all of us.  After us waiting by his bedside most of the night, for him to wake up and speak for a time with Gandalf and then right back off to sleep again?  Now, that is just too bad—too bad indeed!”  And off he went, muttering, “I suspect I shall need to call upon the Dúnadan to help me, of course.  He is always clever at bettering my rhymes.”

            Elrond watched after him, and commented softly, “I do not believe the good weather we have known will hold that much longer, not if he is deciding not to attend a feast.  His leg tends to ache when it is about to change.  But we should be well entertained this evening.  His poetry is quite good, you must understand, although he never believes us when we tell him that.”  He smiled down at the others.  “Mithrandir’s is a good plan, small Masters.  Now, if you will excuse me—I promised to look in at Estel’s Ranger.  To remain so long under the Black Breath and yet survive is unusual.”  He gave them a graceful inclination of his head, and turned toward the door beyond Sam’s, where he knocked and went in.

            They went to the dining hall to fetch away some cold meats, a platter of vegetable strips with a mayonnaise to dip them in, and quartered apples and pears drizzled with a light syrup to refresh themselves with.  Pippin managed to obtain a pitcher of light ale and a few mugs for them to share, and they found their way out to a balcony from which they could watch Frodo’s windows to wait.  Perhaps the weather was due to change in a day or two, but for now it was fair, they were in the most comfortable and hospitable house in all of Eriador, and Frodo would awaken soon.

            Sam nibbled at a quartered apple and sipped from his mug and watched the window.  Soon his Master should awaken, this time properly, and they would be treated to a fine meal tonight, with Mr. Frodo as the guest of honor.  He closed his eyes and let the slanted sunshine bathe his face.  Now it should be the adventure they had all hoped for, and soon, he thought, they would be able to go home again.  Home, and to be reunited with Rosie Cotton once more.  He’d not wait long, he decided.  No, he’d not wait long at all, not once they were back in the Shire—or at least in Buckland.  She ought to like the Crickhollow house.  They could settle there with Mr. Frodo, and the two of them would do for him.  And perhaps his Master would now feel free at long last to court Miss Narcissa as had loved Mr. Frodo for so very long, now that he would soon be shut of the Ring.  And he smiled as he imagined Narcissa Boffin, now Missus Narcissa Baggins, with a group of proper Baggins children about her skirts, sitting in the dooryard with Rosie, both of them shelling peas and laughing together, Rosie with a babe in a basket at her feet….

            But somewhere in the back of his mind he realized that just perhaps it wouldn’t be that easy.  That Ring had took his Master—took him firmly, It had.  And it was very likely that it wouldn’t be easy to find someone else suitable to see to the end of the foul thing.  If that should prove to be true, what would he do?

            That’s easy enough, he thought.  Until his Master was certain that the plans for the Ring were right enough that he could give It over easily to someone else, he would stay right by Mr. Frodo’s side.  That, after all, was what he’d always wanted to do, where he’d wanted to be.  No, until Mr. Frodo was ready to go home, unfortunately Rosie Cotton and their plans for the future would have to wait.  And they would—they would.

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