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Thicker than Blood: 8. Eavesdropping
Sam was very
glad he had slept, for the night was a sore trial on his heart and body.
He had to report to Elrond every hour on Frodo’s condition, when the
elf wasn’t there himself, and bring word and instruction back to Gandalf who
also stayed with Frodo that night. Frodo’s
fever rose, though not alarmingly, and Elrond was not yet prepared to bring it
down. The fever, he explained, was the body’s own defense against
the poisons of the wound and it was a defense that the dark arts of Mordor could
not combat. Elvish craft, however
powerful, was something the shard of the Morgul knife had been created to defy
and Elrond feared by using it wantonly, he would only hasten Frodo’s end.
they combated the fever the way Sam knew – with herbs, willow bark tea, cool
cloths and sponge baths of scented water. Frodo
was restless and though he did not wake, he tossed and cried out in dark dreams.
His shoulder also pained him miserably and whenever Sam would brush up
against it or Frodo would roll onto it in his thrashing, he would scream in
agony. Long into the night, Frodo
tossed and raved, but no matter the comforts that Elrond, Gandalf or Sam could
devise, it seemed the hobbit would find no peace until Sam, in desperation, took
his master’s cold left hand in his and held it.
He didn’t think Frodo could feel his touch – indeed, the hand felt
stiff and so cold that it did not seem possible to be part of a living body -
but the gentle stroking and warmth of Sam’s hand did calm him.
Sam pulled his chair to the very side of the bed and sat long into the
night merely holding Frodo’s hand and caressing it.
At last, comforted by this simple act, Frodo slept.
saw no change except that Gandalf left and Bilbo came with breakfast again.
Sam ate while the old hobbit tried to feed Frodo as he had done the
morning before, but Frodo, stirring but not regaining his senses, was becoming
difficult. Though he calmed hearing
Bilbo’s loving voice, he seemed unwilling to take even a few spoonfuls of
broth. Sam could see the old hobbit
was becoming frightened again. Keeping
fluids in Frodo was vitally important – if he was to endure the fever and the
surgery that was to come – and though Bilbo had not been told what the
practice would entail, he seemed to know it would be a trial and was desperately
my lad, you must eat…” Bilbo cajoled. He
tried to tip a spoonful of the broth into Frodo’s mouth but the other hobbit
did not seem to understand that the warm liquid was food and could not be
persuaded to swallow. At last,
after Frodo, trying to speak through a mouthful of broth, started to choke and
turn blue, Bilbo stopped trying. He
looked so miserable and lost that Sam, reaching for the bowl, gave his hand a
‘im a bit, Mr. Bilbo. I am sure
he’ll come ‘round again enough to take some.
He’s been in and out like this all night.
Just you wait till he’s more settled and try it again.”
Sam hoped he sounded more hopeful than he felt.
Bilbo sighed and relinquished the bowl.
perhaps.” The old hobbit settled
back, his eyes never leaving his heir’s face.
“You are a good lad, Sam. Frodo
is lucky to have you at his side. I
don’t know how many servants would go so far and through so much for their
that Sam’s face grew hot. “Oh,
Mr. Bilbo,” he stuttered. “You
were the best master a body could ever wish for.
There’s few that would’ve taught a servant their letters and spent so
much ‘a their precious time tellin’ stories to the gardener’s boy.
You’ve treated me and my old gaffer better than anybody’d a right to
expect. Mr. Frodo’s the same way,
though I expect he learned his quality from you.” Sam smiled. “No,
sir, I’m the lucky one, and I know it. There’s
nobody else in the world I’d rather work for than you or Mr. Frodo, ‘cause
there’s no one in the world who’d be so kind to me. A good master’s a rare find, sir.”
good servant is even rarer, my boy.” Bilbo
smiled back at him. “I’ve been
around for a good many years longer than you, and I know.
You’ve quality of your own, you Gamgees, and strength and character.
I knew, and I am sure Frodo knows, that we are truly the lucky ones.”
Bilbo patted Sam’s hand kindly. “Part
of what helped me to leave Bag End was knowing that you and your father would be
there to take care of him. I knew
he was in the best hands he could be in. And
getting him here, like this…” Bilbo’s throat tightened and he was unable
to continue for a moment. “I am
just trying to say thank you for getting him here alive.”
looked down, embarrassed again. “No
thanks needed, Mr. Bilbo. And
besides, that were mostly Mr. Strider’s doing, sir.
And I had help from Mr. Merry and Master Pippin.
Couldn’t have done it without them too, sir.”
I suppose not,” Bilbo agreed, though he thought he knew where most of the care
Frodo must have needed had come from, he did not want to embarrass the boy
came and Strider visited Frodo for the first time since they had brought him in.
He had been busy with Elrond’s people and Gandalf, gathering what news
he could about the doings away to the south and east.
He chatted comfortably with Bilbo, and Sam could tell the two had known
each other for a long time and were close friends.
The last doubt Sam might have harbored about the strange man was swept
away as he sat listening to their easy and familiar talk.
He’d almost nodded off in his chair again when Strider asked him to see
about fetching some food for them. Sam
started, wiping the cobwebs from his eyes and faltered.
Did Strider know about Bilbo’s wanting the ring?
Did he know where it was hidden, and that he should not let the old
hobbit alone with his nephew? As
these questions ran through his mind, he locked eyes with the ranger and it
seemed for a moment the man was puzzled. Then
Strider spared a quick look at the ornate box at the bedside and gave Sam the
briefest of nods. It seemed he
understood the problem, but Sam could risk no more explanation with Bilbo
present. He would have to trust the
then, I’ll be back in two shakes.” He
popped out the door and made his way towards the kitchens.
with a laden tray, Sam paused outside the door of Frodo’s room.
It was half open and Sam could hear two voices speaking.
One was Strider and the other sounded like the elf lord, Elrond.
Sam could not see them, but he could see Bilbo, sitting in one of the
comfortably padded chairs that Sam, when he wasn’t tending his master, had
spent most of the last two days in. Bilbo
was snoring softly, his head resting against the back and his face buried in the
corner of the headrest. He was
sound asleep. Sam set the tray down
silently on a small table outside the door and popped a tiny baked pastry into
his mouth. They wouldn’t be
needing all this food yet, not with Mr. Bilbo asleep. He munched his way through the dainty and reached for
not getting any stronger, you realize,” Sam heard Strider’s voice speaking.
“What will you do if he has not recovered enough to bear the
voice, like that of every elf he’d heard was lovely and melodious, but the
words he spoke chilled Sam’s bones. “We
must proceed anyway,” he said. “It
is imperative I remove that splinter before he dies or he will become an agent
for Sauron – and if he doesn’t sense it already, he will then ‘know’
where the ring lies and be drawn to it. His
wraith would rise up and take it back and it would then be in the hands of the
enemy. We cannot risk that, even if
it means forfeiting the halfling’s life to prevent it.”
“That is a
cold choice, Elrond. Bitterly
cold,” came Strider’s voice in answer.
bitter times, my foster son. There
will be more lives lost than this small one’s if Sauron regains the ring.
It is not a choice I make easily nor without need, you know that.”
surely you will try to save him?” Strider asked gently, it was almost a plea.
I will do everything in my power to keep him alive, but after all this time and
trial, I have very little hope. It
may take all the combined power of my house just to keep him alive and to melt
the shard when it is found. I do
not know what will be left afterwards to support his life.”
Elrond’s voice dropped and sounded almost, but not quite, kind.
“I see you have grown fond of him, Estel, and I am sorry, but I have
seen this type of wound before. Celebrian
was not even this far gone and I was sorely pressed to save her.
In the end, even what I had struggled so hard to do was not enough to
heal her fully. I do not wish to
give you false hope.”
give no hope, my foster father.” Strider
paced the room and Sam could see the swirl of his dark cloak on the other side
of Frodo’s bed. “I have watched
the halfling endure this and I believe you may underestimate him. Gandalf said it long ago that there was much more to these
people than meets the eye and after the past weeks in the wilds I am inclined to
believe him. Take the shard from
him, but do not abandon him to death. They
are a good people and strong. You
may be surprised how tough they really are.”
hope you are right, Estel, and though I would never abandon him to death, I
cannot breathe life back when it has flown.
I will do everything that I can to save him, but I must do what I must
listened in growing horror and found his breath was coming hard and tight in his
throat. He must have been making
enough noise to be heard for the elf and man stopped talking then and were
silent. Sam tried desperately to
control the churning of his stomach and bent to pick the tray back up, hoping he
had mastered himself sufficiently that the two would not be able to tell he had
overheard them. He pushed open the
door with his rump and backed into the room, carefully balancing the heavy
he choked, and hoped they would think his tone was in an effort not to wake
Bilbo. He placed the food on
another table by the fire and looked towards his old master, carefully keeping
his back to the other two. Bilbo
still sat, curled up and sleeping in his chair, but the snoring had ceased.
Sam crept closer and put a hand on his shoulder to gently wake the
hobbit. It was then that he saw
that a flood of tears had welled silently from beneath Bilbo’s closed lids to
soak his old and wrinkled cheeks.
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