2. Part II
As they had done with Pippin, the ladies carefully washed Samwise's body, and though he did not wake, Indil did note some response from him. A soft sigh as Indil poured water over his hair to wash it, a twitch as they rubbed him dry, a weak but definite swallow as they ladled broth into his mouth. Indil was heartened but she knew he was still a hair's breath from death. She had to see that he had food and water in him as often as he would take it in order to give him back his strength.
Leaving her attendants to finish with Samwise, Indil approached the last bed. This was the one the King had named Frodo, and the one for whom he had seemed to show the most concern. She had saved him for last in order to ensure that the sun was high in the sky before she began to bathe him. It was not quite April, and even in these southern climes, the mornings could be chill. Indil wanted to insure that the day was full and warm before she stressed his weakened body with water. His dark, dirty hair hung in loose rings around his small face. Indil idly brushed them back and thought to herself how beautiful he would be clean, awake and smiling. It puzzled her that she would think such a thing about one not even of her own race, but she supposed it was because he was truly fair to look upon. She took his hand to test his muscle tone, but she did not let it go. She knew from just a touch that he would not flinch if she let it fall. The hand was soft and delicate. The long fingers made an elegant, aristocratic counterpart draped over her roughened palm. It suddenly struck her what a staggering thing this small hand had done. To think that it had accomplished what legions of Gondor's finest warriors had not been able to! She gazed into his face in wonder. He did look different from his companions. He was finer somehow, more ethereal. Indil had seen but one of the elvish race in her life, the fair one who fought by the Elfstone's side. This dark haired perian's features almost looked elvish, but there was something even more compelling about him. Indil found herself absently stroking his hand as she had used to those of her sleeping sons and smiled sadly at the memory. Her sons were long dead. They had died far from home or healers. She had never even had the chance to fight for their lives... but… she did have a chance with this little one. Her resolve stiffened. She would NOT let death take this brave, precious one - not while she had the strength to do something to prevent it.
Indil pulled the blanket back and, with utmost care, pulled the filthy leather tunic over Frodo's head. He was limp as a rag, which made the endeavor difficult, but Indil managed it without calling for assistance. Then she removed the leather breeches and tucked the woolen blanket tightly around his pale body. The clothes were foul things, smelly and ill fitting and Indil was temped to throw them away, but something stopped her. These are what he wore to defeat the dark lord. As noisome as they seemed it felt like sacrilege to dispose of anything associated with an act so great. She carefully folded the things and placed them with the others that were to be cleaned and mended. She then took another blanket from the table where her requisition had been delivered and laid it gently over Frodo. Even with the lambskin covered bed and one thick woolen blanket he had seemed cold to her touch. She knew in his condition, a chill would kill him and she wished to take no chances. She let him warm for several minutes under the layers before continuing with her examination.
The right hand had been bandaged the day before and she removed the wrapping to see its condition for herself. Something had removed his third finger as neatly as if it had been cut, but the tissues did seem to be knitting together over the small stub of bone that remained. She left it unbandaged to let the air dry the tissues and preceded up the slender arm. Scratches, recently scabbed, met her questing fingers and when she reached his neck, she found a hard swelling just to the left of the base of his neck. The tissue surrounding it was discolored, she could tell that even through the grime, but she had no idea what could have caused the wound. His head seemed whole, unlike his companion Samwise, whose wound was currently being dressed on the next table, but the rest of his body seemed covered with older injuries. The left shoulder still sported a small white scar that did not look long healed. Along the ribs was scored a great gash as if a sword or lash and struck him and beneath this was the old yellow and green of a terrible bruise that was slowly healing. Over all he had the gaunt look of someone who had gone for too long with too little. His ribs were easily counted and the point of his hip stuck out from the lean body - it was the same look his companion had, only on this fair, delicate form, it looked more tragic.
By the time new water was heated, those attending Pippin had finished. One remained to feed him broth and bread and the others came to help Indil bathe Frodo. She felt strangely unwilling to accept their help, almost jealous of the attention they would give him, but she knew such feeling was folly. If she were to save him, she would need their assistance. As the women gently washed the layers of grime from his body, Indil poured warmed water over Frodo’s curls. She worked the soap through his dark hair and though she watched for any signs of stirring, she noted none. Not a hitch of breath or flutter of eyelid disturbed his deathly sleep. He was indeed far gone. When they had dried him and dressed him in a soft white robe, she laid him against her side to try to coax a drop of broth between his lips. But even its enticing flavor could not get him to readily swallow. Indil had to gently stroke the pale neck in order to persuade his muscles to accept it. As the sun rose past noon and beyond, Indil stayed with her small charge and one spoonful at a time, working each one down the slack throat, she managed to get a bowlful of broth into Frodo. When she finally laid him back onto the bed, she put an ear to his belly and was rewarded to hear the sounds that indicated his body had not shut down, and that indeed the broth might give him strength. It gave her hope. Holding his limp body against hers had been a trial on her heart... He was the same size and heft of a child and it pained her to feel him against her knowing how close he was to death. She knew better than to allow herself to feel this way, especially with such a grim patient, but she could not help it.
After checking on the other hobbits and assuring herself that they were all right, Indil found herself drawn back to Frodo. What was it about this small creature that compelled her? He was sad and beautiful, like a stricken dove, and that alone would garner Indil’s pity, but not these feelings of compassion and fascination. It must have been the realization of what he had done that intrigued her so. This perian out of legend, alone but for his companion had saved all her people. It would seem an astonishing feat for anyone and for one so small to do it… The fact that he had nearly given his life to accomplish it only made her admiration, as well as her determination that he would not perish, greater. She stroked his cheek gently. ‘This was madness’, she thought. Indil had been a healer most her life and knew the folly of caring too deeply for those she tended, but with these,... this one especially, she realized, her heart would not be denied. She could not see these little ones die.
She would need to make a feeding tube scaled to the right size. Of leather and boiled for stiffness it would serve well. Otherwise neither of the two emaciated ones would ever get enough sustenance to recover. She knew where to find a large piece of good leather and the saddle maker would have the necessary tools. Putting the device together would also keep her from dwelling on her folly. She had gathered what she needed and was settling down by the fire to begin working when the King returned, walking wearily up the path alone and unheralded. Indil was startled but quickly assembled her attendants and had them stand ready at attention to do whatever he bid. Aragorn smiled despite the weariness and nodded to her, but walked directly to the beds and examined each patient briefly.
"They look much better for your tender care, lady." He said graciously. "How did you find them? "
Indil curtsied and bowed her head as she addressed her liege. "The larger one, Pippin, woke earlier," she reported. "He took some food, but sleeps again, as you see. He was most indignant about being waited upon." She glanced up and noted the brief amused glint in the Elfstone's eye. "The other two were tended, and fed though, they show no sign of waking. The one called Samwise seemed more responsive, but both these two are still very grave."
Aragorn had moved to Sam's bed, and then to Frodo's touching each newly clean head in turn. "They look better, at least." His tone sounded sad to Indil's ear, but she did not know the King well enough to judge his moods.
"I think they are better, at least a little.” She suggested, hoping she was not being too presumptuous. “The food and water was not rejected and that is a very good sign. I begin to have hope, my lord.” Her voice dropped a bit as if she were afraid to admit what she was about to say. “They are a most remarkable race. I begin to understand what you have seen in these people."
Aragorn leaned heavily on Sam's bed. His stare wandered over Frodo's still pale form and it looked as if he were searching for his words.
"They are dear to me,” he sighed, almost too softly for Indil to hear, “but I wonder if perhaps my heart may have acted before my head. I strove to save them but now wonder if indeed I should have." It seemed his heart was deeply troubled and Indil found herself wishing she could give him comfort. He glanced up as if remembering she was there and then nodded towards the hobbits. “These two especially have endured much that I can never heal or reward them for, and the burden this one bore…” He looked sadly at Frodo. “It made scars that will never heal.” Again his voice dropped and Indil could barely hear him say; “Do I wish to save him because I love him, or because it is what is best for him?”
Indil found her throat tightening. She did not know if she was supposed to hear these musings, for indeed it sounded as if he was speaking more to himself than to her, but his words frightened her. She also did not know of the hurts he spoke of, but she understood his meaning. There are times when a healer knows it was kindest to let the dying spirit go, but in her heart, Indil knew this was not the case with these perian. She had nothing to go on but her feeling, but that feeling was very strong. If she gave them the chance, the little ones would recover. “My lord?” she began timidly with her eyes downcast. “I have not the gifts in healing you have, I cannot see into their hearts, but I have felt in them a strong love of life.” She blushed under Aragorn’s stern, appraising stare. “You asked me to look into my heart, my lord, and to tender them as if they were my own.” She smiled softly looking down at the sleeping hobbits. “You needn’t have asked, for they are easy to grow fond of and have already won my heart on their own.”
A gradual softening came into Aragorn’s eyes and, slowly, a compassionate smile warmed his face. “I see why you were recommended to me,” he said softly. Indil looked up at him and the tenderness she saw in his face took her breath again. Here was a true leader of men. One who could inspire his people from love, not fear. Here was a King. Her King, she realized, and suddenly Indil knew the future of the race of men was bright, brighter than it had ever been in her lifetime. Here indeed was an heir of the blood of Numenor and it made her heart glad that she had lived to see him return. “What you say is true,” he continued. “These folk have a spirit that is remarkable. Difficult to see at times, for they are a common folk and aren’t often challenged in their peaceful land, but when called upon, they have done extraordinary feats of courage. They are easy to love if one sees them with true eyes.” Indil blushed at his compliment. He stood and nodded towards the pavilions that had been set up on the edge of the glade. “And let us hope your heart and their spirits will be enough to bring them all back to us. Come, the tents are assembled now. Let us move them inside before the evening comes.”
Indil nodded, still warmed by his praise. She and her assistants helped the King as he personally carried the hobbits to one of the pavilions. The ladies lit a fire in the raised hearth in its very center and the little tent became comfortably cozy despite the opening in the roof that let the smoke escape. Indil placed her chair by this fire and continued to work on the piece of thick leather she had obtained. Aragorn sat by each of the hobbits’ sides in turn, murmuring soft words and phrases. When Indil had completed her task, the King aided her as she carefully slipped the narrow tube of leather into Sam’s mouth. The upper end of the tube had been left wide, and served as a funnel into which rich broth could be ladled. Sam slept on but his reflexes obediently swallowed the liquid as it came into his mouth. When he had had a bowlful, and a drink of water by the same method, she turned to Frodo. He would still not swallow readily, and Indil could see the fear and despair in the King's eyes when he saw the perian’s lack of response, but it was for this one she had made the device. Boiled, the leather was stiff enough, and coated with a bit of fat, Indil was able to guide the tube deep into his throat. His body tensed as she forced the tube down, and that was heartening to Indil. She doubted he would have had that much of a response before the morning. She massaged his throat an eased the tube till it was deep enough for the broth to stay down. Then she asked the King to raise him up and together they fed him a bowlful and a drink as they had Sam. Pippin, stirring finally, but still too weakened to sit up, received his supper in a more traditional manner from the patient hands of the King himself.
“You will be whole in not time, my friend!” Aragorn said wiping a bit of broth from the perian’s chin. “The healers of Gondor are renowned and you have their finest to tend you.” Pippin smiled wanly, but it did not ease the fear that creased his brow.
“And that is something I had not expected from that battle,” Pippin replied, “but what of Frodo, what of Sam?!” He strained to look at them but it was clear he was sore from his injuries and the effort was difficult. “I see they lie with me in this healer’s tent, but they seem far worse off than I! What has happened to them? Did they succeed? And what of the Dark Lord? Did we win?” His speech was hoarse and cracked a bit from agitation, but Aragorn laughed aloud, delighted to hear the hobbit’s sweet voice.
“I will tell you what you need to know to ease your heart, but you must rest! You all are in the best hands you could be, but if you do not take your ease, you will put yourself in jeopardy again! You were far more grievously injured than you realize.” Aragorn then told Pippin of all that had happened and all that he had learned of Frodo and Sam’s journey from Gandalf. The young hobbit listened with rapt attention for as long as he could, but in the drowsy heat of the fire, the carefully calm voice of the King lulled him, despite his fascination with the tale. He was nearly asleep by the time Aragorn finished and the King touched the hobbit’s brow to guide him the rest of the way.
In the deep dark of the healer’s tent during that first night in Ithilien, Frodo began once again to sense the world around him. He did not wake but it was as if the gentle ministrations of those who cared for him made him aware that all was not lost. He heard soft singing and smelled a sweet scent in the air, and then there was wood smoke, and warmth and softness all about him. The tortured winds that had first seemed to drive him into darkness calmed. He faced them and realized they no longer tore at his weary spirit. Sweet singing and words from without beckoned him. He could understand their meaning though they were in no language he knew. They told him he was needed and that he had tarried far too long here in this void. This darkness was the place he had expected to go, but the gentle words and love rumored in them made him realize that he did not need to. Not just yet, at least. He felt a great warmth begin to envelop him and some of his weariness fell away. The feeling buoyed him and compelled him. He was needed back and so tenderly and lovingly called that, without questioning, he came. The return journey would be long, but not hard, indeed, by comparison nothing seemed hard anymore.
In the early morning a few days after the periannath had been placed in her care, Indil rose and entered the tent to check on her charges. Pippin was sleeping peacefully and didn’t even stir when she laid new wood on the fire. She noted with satisfaction how much healthier he looked than just the morning before. It would not be many more days before he was fit to rise, though probably longer before he could do more than a brief, aided hobble. Samwise too, had improved greatly in color though he was still very weak. She touched his brow and opened one eye, but he drowsed on. The King kept him sleeping by some craft since Samwise was not yet recovered enough to leave his bed. Although at the rate he was improving, Indil thought it would not be very long before he was. Last she turned her attention to Frodo. Of the three of them, he was the only one to show little improvement and it tore at her heart. He was the only one Aragorn had not needed to keep asleep as he was still pale and showed no signs of waking on his own. The day before, Meriadoc, another perian, had come from Gondor with the first supplies and he had been rushed straight away to visit his convalescent kin. He greeted Pippin joyously and talked long with him, and then he stood by the other beds speaking briefly to Sam and Frodo as they slept. Indil could see the worry in his face when he looked at Frodo, still the sickest of them, and it wasn’t long before Merry had bright tears glistening in his eyes. He had not meant for Indil to see them and had turned away when he noticed her glance. He had apologized saying that he knew they were doing all they could for Frodo, but the sight of that brave little perian crying over his fallen kin had still pained Indil. She wished she could have had more than just hope to give him.
The newly awoken fire’s light mingled with the first glow of morning and both lit Frodo’s still features with a warm, golden radiance. He breathed easily, deep in sleep. Indil touched his face and to her surprise, his lips parted and he sighed softly as he dreamt. Instantly she leaned close to look at him, hardly daring to hope. Yes! There was a real blush there that was more than a mere reflection of the fire. She stroked his cheek. An almost imperceptible quiver stirred his muscles and Indil was sure she saw his brow crease just a bit in reaction. She gasped and barely managed to hold back her ecstatic cry. Adversity had always plagued her life, and since she had grown so fond of this perian she was more than half afraid that one morning when she entered the tent, he would be gone. To see him finally starting to come back to them was all she could have desired. She knew her heart had been too bold in tendering its affections – for this one at least she should have had no expectations - but reason, it seemed, had had nothing to do with it. This fair, brave little creature had enchanted her without breathing a word. She took his hand in hers and held it, as happy as if he had sat up and smiled at her.
He was being moved. Frodo could tell from the gentle sway of his feet that he was being carried and was then laid on a soft surface. A moist breeze touched his face along with the sweetly scented caress of a fall of long hair. Someone leaned over him and he sighed, struggling to wake. His mind was full of fog and it was difficult, but he reached up to push the hair aside. A gasp and he heard the sound of a soft voice speaking though he could not make out the words. Then the voice was gone and he thought he heard the sound of running feet. He touched his face and felt his own fingertips, but there was something odd about the feeling. His eyes strove to open and he had to blink several times before he could focus on his own hand. Yes, now he realized why the feeling had been so strange. While the hand had felt completely normal, when he touched his own face, he realized it was missing its third finger. Memory came hesitantly back to him.
He looked up past his hand to the dawn tinted sky that peeked from behind a roof of dark green leaves. He did not know by what miracle he had survived the chaos of Mount Doom, but this place reminded him of Ithilien. The sweet scent and cool air, the soothing music of a little stream and the early morning twitter of birds were stark contrast to the last waking memory he had had. He wondered if indeed he had died, which was what he had expected, but he didn’t feel dead. He felt definitely alive, and for the first time in a very long while, a bit hopeful, though even as he his thought turned towards the future, he knew a shadow remained in his heart. It seemed to him as if his life was a march words on a crisp sheet of parchment, black lines on bright paper, though some of those marks had been written by Darkness and could never be unmade. He examined his hand again. The skin had healed over the wound, though the scar was still bright pink and he wondered how long it had been since he had got that wound in Sammath Naur. The scratches along his arms, from the fall into the briars outside of Cirith Ungol, were nearly gone and he no longer felt the pinching hunger and thirst that had been his constant companions in the black land, though, now that he thought of it, he did feel up to a breakfast.
Experimentally, Frodo tried to sit up. His head spun. He had lain far too long, but he found that, while stiff and a bit weak, he was feeling quite nearly himself again. He was lying on a man-sized cot laid into a small opening at the edge of a deeper wood. Another cot, empty, was set up beside him. A little brook tumbled over the rocks and roots alongside the forest opening to meander out into a wide meadow below. Far in the distance, beyond the lines of many tents and banners assembled in that meadow, was the dark line of the river Anduin, its waters not yet touched by the rising sun.
“I did not give up hope for you this time, Frodo,” spoke a voice behind him. It was, quite truly the last voice Frodo had ever expected to hear. He looked, astonished, in the direction from which it had come and there, walking up the path, his robes gleaming white in the early morning dim, was Gandalf. A change had come over the wizard and he shone with a light that rivaled the dawn. Frodo could do nothing but stare, dumbfounded. Then he heard his name joyously shouted from beyond the clearing. Aragorn was quickly striding down the narrow path. Behind him, a woman with her cream color shift lifted past her knees, was struggling to match the King's eager pace. Frodo, still shocked speechless by the sight of Gandalf, could no longer support himself on his arms and slumped down on the bed again.
“Gandalf?!?!” His voice sounded cracked, hoarse and unused even to his own ears, which, he supposed, it was. He stared wide-eyed, unable to say anything as he lay gaping on the cot. “I saw you fall!” he continued stupidly, his eyes never leaving the wizard. Gandalf looked down at Frodo with a fierce tenderness and pride that almost embarrassed him.
“As I saw you fall.” Gandalf’s voice was as fair and joyous a thing as Frodo had ever heard. “Never be too hasty when assuming the fate of wizard or hobbit…as I have learned.” He laid a hand on Frodo’s shoulder and smiled dazzlingly. “I am glad you finally decided to return to us.” The hobbit wondered if it was it a trick of the light, or did Gandalf glimmer with hidden brilliance, like the star glass or moonlight through trees? He seemed at once more terrible and more radiant.
Aragorn rushed towards them with a smile of such joy that Frodo could not help smiling back. He was dressed in a rich tunic of fine velvet with the emblem of a white tree encircled by stars emblazoned across its front. “At last, you wake!” he cried and he took up Frodo’s hand and in his. “I have waited a long time to thank you, my friend. You made me fear I would never have the chance.”
“But what of Sam?” Frodo gasped, starting to sit up again. “Is he…?”
“Alive and well, Frodo,” said Aragorn, smiling brightly upon him. “He has yet to wake, but will soon, I judge.”
“The King has tended you since you were brought from the mountain,” Gandalf explained. “You were very close to death when we retrieved you, but he was able to bring you back, and Sam as well.”
Frodo was full of questions but first he begged to see Sam. Aragorn obliged and returned from the tent with Sam’s sleeping form in his arms. They laid the hobbit gently on the other bed and assured Frodo that he was indeed all right and would probably wake very soon. Frodo finally calmed and with an extra pillow at his head, asked his questions and listened to the answers.
Indil had stopped a little ways behind them and waited, listening and watching. His eyes are so blue…, she thought, as the perian listened in amazement to the tale unfolding before him. She wondered that she had never before noted how dazzling they were. For as long as she had tended him, limp and unresponsive, seeing him awake and alive filled her heart to bursting and beyond. She drank in the sight. It should have seemed odd to her – this was not even a man, and he was the size of a child, and yet she knew what she was feeling. She had known love before, and though its sweetness had not flavored her life for many years, she could not deny it. There could be no answering this love, but that did not matter. This feeling was deep, fulfilling, and sustained rather than drained her. She knew she would carry it for the rest of her days regardless of where Frodo went or whatever eventually became of him. His bright face, finally showing pink with health and excitement, looked up at the King and Indil delighted in the sight. It was this vision that she had longed to see since she had first laid eyes upon him. Tears of utter joy threatened to flow from her eyes. She did love him, wholly and completely, and because she did, she knew, she could never breathe a word of it to him. Whatever could she say? It would only serve to make him uncomfortable and she wanted him to be happy, healed, and to never trouble his fair head over her foolish heart. It would remain a secret, her treasured memory, as long as she lived.
At a break in the conversation, Indil cleared her throat and asked politely if Frodo was feeling hungry. Her throat was tight as she spoke, but she fancied she had hidden her feelings sufficiently. She hoped the wizard and her King would not notice the strain in it. Frodo nodded with a smile and Indil had to turn quickly away for now her tears did start to flow. Back in the now empty tent, she prepared a tray of honey and bread, sweet cream and spring fruit, and tried not to think that this would be the last time she would tend him. When she returned, Frodo was sitting at the small table that was beside the beds with Gandalf and Aragorn conscientiously by his side. He ate, but only a little, as his stomach was not yet accustomed to solid foods and when he had finished, Aragorn took his leave. Gandalf settled by the small fire and drew out his pipe.
Indil lingered, not wishing to leave, but she realized that she was essentially dismissed. Her task was over and it felt like her heart was breaking. Frodo smiled up at her kindly. “Thank you,” he said as she took the tray. His voice was gentle, light and melodious. Just as she had imagined it would be. She curtsied low and bowed her head.
“It has been and honor and a privilege to care for you, my lord.” She could not look into his face. “My people hold you in high esteem for what you and your kin have done. I consider myself fortunate to have been able to do this small service for you.” Frodo looked at her, just a bit puzzled.
“Then I have more to thank you for than my breakfast,” he said. “You have helped care for Sam and I?” Indil nodded.
“You were no trouble, my lord. Either of you. And it has filled my heart with joy to see you wake to see this dawn.” Her voice was indeed trembling and Frodo gazed more intently at her. She drew a breath and steadied herself to look him in the eye.
Perhaps Frodo understood her a little, or perhaps it was just her look of pained longing that spoke to him, but he smiled compassionately and nodded. “Your work was well done,” he said softly. “And I will thank you anyway.” Indil slowly, sadly, returned his smile and curtsied once more. Now she truly was dismissed. When she left this place she would never again see him. She forced her unwilling legs to move and tried not to appear as if her heart were breaking as she carried the tray back to the little tent. There was nothing for it. She could curse her own foolhardiness, for it was foolish of her to feel love for him, but somehow she didn’t want to. She wanted instead to carry the sweet bitterness in her heart forever, to keep alive the memory of the dear perian and to never forget the sight of his angelic face smiling up at her in the morning sunlight.
When Sam woke, he found that he was lying on some soft bed, but over him gently swayed wide beechen boughs, and through their young leaves sunlight glimmered, green and gold. All the air was full of a sweet mingled scent.
He remembered that smell: The fragrance of Ithilien. “Bless me!” he mused. “How long have I been asleep?” For the scent had borne him back to a the day when he had lit his little fire under the sunny bank; and for the moment all else between was out of waking memory….
From: ‘The Return of the King’; Book 6 – Chapter 4 – ‘The Field of Cormallen’
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.