14. Chapter Fourteen
“My pleasure, Mast … Frodo. You just rest now, and Pete and I’ll see about that leg in a few minutes. Would you like ‘ta give Brion your message now, sir?”
“Please.” Frodo sighed and sank back into the pillows, closing his eyes. With something in his stomach, he felt less sick and shaky. A slight shift of the mattress and a faint creak informed him that the boy was perched on the end of the bed.
Brion grinned as the hobbit’s eyes opened, still delighted with their unexpected, fascinating visitor. “I’m to run a message for you, sir?” he asked. Before Frodo could reply, the boy rushed on, “I know everybody. Just tell me who to look for.”
Frodo had to smile at the child’s enthusiasm. “I don’t know where my friends will be, as the inn at which we were staying burned down -”
“I saw that!” the boy interrupted, his eyes dancing with excitement.
Frodo nodded; such an event would be the most excitement this little town had seen in quite a while. “Look for a tall old Man in grey robes, with a ridiculous pointed hat and a staff as tall as himself. Or another Man, tall, dark -”
Again the boy interrupted him. “I saw you all come into town yesterday afternoon, sir.” Frodo nodded once more; there had been so many gawking townsfolk that he did not remember the boy. The hobbits had been busy gawking right back. “I’ll ask around and find them, sir. Someone will know where they’ve gone.”
“When you find them, please assure them that I am all right and in good care.” The boy beamed again, brown eyes glowing with pleasure. “I am certain that my friends will want to return with you and collect me.”
Brion bounced to his feet and bowed extravagantly. “At your service, sir!”
Marly escorted her son to the door with the usual “be careful” and “don’t you get into trouble” that he had heard every day of his life. Assuring his mother of his good behavior, Brion scooted out the door. The woman smiled as strong arms stole around her waist and pulled her in for a gentle kiss on the back of her neck.
“He’s off, then?”
Marly turned around in her husband’s arms. “Aye. I don’t know how much time you’ll have before Frodo’s friends come. We’d best get to it, luv.”
Peter smiled and hugged her before releasing her. “Time for me to meet this odd creature?”
Marly frowned at him, though sparkles twinkled in her eyes. “He’s not an ‘odd creature.’ He’s a hobbit. And he’s hurt, Pete. I’ve taken care of the little cuts and the rope-burns, but that leg looks really bad.”
“That’s why you wanted Brion gone?”
“No need for a boy that age to see this,” the woman replied. “Rich and I will help you. He’s getting your things ready.” The man nodded and turned away from her, to find her arms around his waist this time and her face pressed against his back. “Be as gentle as possible, luv. He looks to be a lad no bigger than Brion, though I know he’s adult among his own folk. It just wrenches me heart to see pain on that sweet face.”
Peter chuckled. “Ever the mother. But … you’re right. He does bear a resemblance to our scamp.” Gently he disentangled her arms then raised her hand up to his lips. “All right, then, let’s get to it. The longer an infection sits, the worse it gets.”
Frodo had almost managed to retreat back into sleep when a soft cough jolted him back to wakefulness. Opening his eyes, he saw a tall man standing behind Marly and knew where the boys had gotten those snub noses. The man smiled and Frodo felt from him the same warmth and generosity of spirit that his wife radiated.
Marly introduced them and the two exchanged half-bows. Then Peter pushed back the sleeves of his son’s borrowed nightshirt and examined the crusting rope-burns. “Do ye want to tell us about this?”
Frodo hesitated. He could not involve these good people in the danger that hunted him. The two humans watched as conflicting emotions chased across the hobbit’s pale face, his instinctive reaching out in friendship warring with the need for secrecy of the last months. “Forgive me,” said the hobbit at last. “I cannot. Other lives than mine are at stake. My presence here puts you in danger, and the sooner I am gone, the better.”
The man accepted that answer, though he obviously wasn’t satisfied with it. To the Ring-bearer’s relief, whatever Peter had been about to say was deterred by the arrival of his older son, a wire basket of steel utensils still steaming in the youth’s hands. Frodo’s face went white as he saw it. Marly moved around to the head of the bed and gently pressed his shoulders back into the pillows. “We’ll make this as easy on you as we can, Frodo, but it’s going ‘ta hurt.”
Carefully the man lifted the quilts that covered the hobbit’s body and moved them from the injured area. Pressed back against the pillows by Marly’s unyielding arms, Frodo could not see the wound. But he tried to struggle upright when he heard her soft gasp. “Rat bite,” growled the man, leaning down to examine it better. “Dirty things … carry all sorts o’ disease … took a good bit out of you, didn’t it?” Marly pushed him down again with a little comforting squeeze of his shoulders.
Gentle fingers traced around the injury, then pressed down. Frodo gasped in startlement and pain as the fingers palpitated his leg, fire flashing up through him to break out as sweat on his forehead. The fingers were withdrawn and Pete looked at him remorsefully. “Ahh, I’m sorry there, Master Frodo.”
“Da,” said Rich in a soft voice.
“I see it, boy.”
“See what?” asked Frodo, pleased at how calm his voice sounded.
The man glanced up but did not answer. Instead, he addressed himself to his son. “Move the lamp closer, Rich. Yes, there.” Frodo felt his leg being lifted carefully and turned. “You’d better help your mother hold ‘im down.” Peter cleared his throat and when Frodo met his eyes, the man dropped his gaze, a flush stealing over his craggy features. “I’m sorry, but I’ve nothing ‘ta give you for the pain. Sedating herbs and teas are right dear … and…” Helpless, the man repeated, “I’m sorry.”
The hobbit nodded and closed his eyes, small hands clamping onto the wooden bed frame as if to hold himself to life.
* * * * *
The commander of the guard escorted Aragorn and Legolas back and turned them over to the guard on desk duty. Legolas tried to engage the officer in conversation but the commander only stared at him, such fury in his grey eyes that the Elf desisted. Luckily, they did not have long to wait. The garrison door blew open and the town magistrate breezed in, followed by the glowering innkeeper.
To Aragorn’s eyes, the magistrate looked like nothing as much as an overgrown hobbit, amiable face now scowling. A fringe of curly white hair encircled a round head with a face red with exertion, beads of perspiration gathering on the temples despite the coolness of the winter sun at mid-day. The little man did not look happy to see them. No doubt this had much to do with the constant stream of soft-voiced, aggravated words the innkeep was pouring into his ear.
“Wot’s this, then?” With a wave of his hand, the magistrate silenced the irate innkeep and the Ranger’s respect for the little man went up a notch. Without waiting for a response, the rotund man plowed on. “Is it true you won’t pay for the damage the old man did? Settin’ fire to an inn and endangering folks’ lives is a hanging offense in this town, sirs, an’ if you think you can just –“
“We have every intention of making full reparation, your honor,” interjected Legolas so smoothly that the little man was caught with his mouth open, gaping like a fish. “In fact,” the Elf continued, “I have the sum with me now – this moment. Full payment for the inn and all its furnishings and stock – double the worth of the inn and all it contained.” So saying, the Elf withdrew the heavy sack that Merry had handed him. Working open the knotted drawstring, Legolas spread the fabric to reveal a shimmering pile of gold coins.
The magistrate tried to speak and inhale at the same moment and broke into a fit of noisy, messy coughs. The commander took a step away from the wall, his cold face flushing as his eyes traveled to the cell area. The innkeep made a sound that resembled a cat with its tail caught in a door and surged forward, dirty hands reaching out to clasp the sagging bag. Legolas released it to him and stepped back, clear eyes amused but wary.
“Oh…” with a visible effort, the magistrate gathered up the shards of his composure. Aragorn watched as thoughts of how this bounty would benefit his little town’s economy flowed behind those shocked eyes. “Ummm… Does this satisfy your complaint, then?”
Wordless, the innkeep nodded, the weight of the sack pulling his arms down. He heaved the sack on the desk guard’s desk and watched as it listed to the side, a bright yellow river flowing from its mouth.
“No! No, I’ll not accept this!”
The round little magistrate turned to the commander in astonishment. “What do you have to say about it?” The commander ground his fists into his sides, impotent rage in his cold face. “The complaint has been satisfied,” the magistrate continued, “an’ most generously, I might add. Release the prisoners!”
Instead of obeying, the commander moved to the desk and dug his fingers deep into the sack, picking up one of the golden coins from the bottom. A slow, predatory smile spread across his face. “You might want to have a look at some of these coins, first,” he said in a quiet, non-committal voice, all traces of his earlier fury gone. “They’re false.”
* * * * *
Brion scurried along the dirt-strewn streets he had known all of his life, puffed up with the importance of his mission. Friends called to him to come join in their play but he shook his dark head and hurried on. It did not take him long at all to find out what had happened to Frodo’s friends – their fate and the latest mishaps were on everyone’s lips. The boy didn’t even have to ask anyone; he just sidled up to his elders’ conversations and listened.
The boy knew where the garrison was, of course, as he knew the location of every building in this little town that was his world. His route took him past the still-smoldering site of the inn and he watched for a few minutes as men worked at cleaning up the debris, carting away charred timbers and trying to salvage what they could. Water from the effort to save the building had turned the ground into a muddy morass and the boy contemplated crossing the expanse in dismay. His mother would make him clean his boots if he got them dirty. With the straightforward practicality of the young, he decided that feet were easier to wash than boots. Leaning against a convenient wall, the boy took them off and tucked them safely behind a barrel. In less than a quarter-hour he stood at the rear of the jail, straining up on the mud-encrusted tips of his toes, trying to see into the cell through the small barred window.
If he dragged himself up to the window, he could see the backs of the old man and the warrior and the dwarf as they gathered at the bars to speak with the man and the Elf. This was as close as he had ever been to one of the Fair Folk and the boy stared in astonishment. He could watch for only seconds before his young arms gave and he slid down against the wall. When he had shaken them out and pulled himself up again, the Elf and the Man were leaving, the others crowded along the bars, staring after them desolately.
Which group should he approach? He knew the guards, of course, but he doubted if they would let him speak with the prisoners. The dark, dangerous looking man and the Elf rather intimidated him. No, better if he waited until they left the room, then he would call the kindly-looking old man over to the window and deliver Frodo’s message. Then the old man could tell the other two to follow him home -
“Got you, halfling!” Brion’s head snapped back on his neck as a leather glove clamped over his mouth and nose. His hands unlocked from the bars in surprise and he clawed at his face. The boy felt himself pulled backwards then a black cloak was thrown over his head and he was pressed against something soft with an arm clamped over his chest. He tried to scream but the leather glove covering his face slammed his head forward into the stone wall, and he knew no more.
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.