5. Tonics and Troubles
The last turned Frodo’s sweat-soaked face towards him, and the unfocused eyes stared at him. But there was no recognition in the huge morning glory eyes and Frodo closed them and turned away again, his hands plucking at the bed sheets as he tried vainly to escape the miserable illness wracking his body.
“Samwise, exactly how long as he been like this?” Elrond’s slender hands were probing up under Frodo’s jaw and at the sides of his throat, turning the dark head sideways to peer into his ears. Frodo fought him feebly, his own hands coming up to catch at the Elf’s, pulling at them weakly as he tried to burrow away from the gentle handling. Elrond took no notice but continued his examination, scooping up the abandoned cloth to swipe away the runnels of matter crusting the hobbit’s eyes.
“He started feelin’ bad just before teatime, sir. Mr. Bilbo brought him some lovely little cakes, but he wouldn’t eat ‘em. He seemed awful tired, so Mr. Bilbo left. I thought he was sleeping, till I came in an hour ago an’ found him like this.” Sam hovered at the Elf’s shoulder, watching the inspection anxiously. Standing a little back from them, Merry and Pippin watched no less anxiously.
“He said I wasn’t ‘ta bother you, sir. That he jus’ had a headache and his eyes hurt. I thought it was from all that reading. You know how he is, sir – he hates ‘ta have people fuss over him.”
Merry became aware that Pippin was tugging on his waistcoat. His eyes never leaving his cousin’s face, Merry said, “What is it, Pip?”
“Is this our fault, Merry? Is he sick again because we got him too tired this afternoon?” Having finally gotten his older cousin’s attention, Pippin wiggled his arm around Merry’s waist, and Merry pulled him close for comfort. Pippin was trembling, he discovered, as the small form pressed against him.
Before Merry could reply, Elrond turned his elegant head towards them. “Do not fear, Pippin,” came his calm voice. “Your cousin is stronger than that. It is much more likely that the tonic I had him imbibe earlier has caused this. It is a potent medicine designed to attack a fever, to finally banish the fever that has lingered in Frodo’s body since the removal of the shard from the Morgul-blade. It is possible that I have given him too much, or in too strong a concentration. Treating hobbits is, I fear,” the Elf-lord continued softly, “still an imprecise science among us.”
Beneath Elrond’s gentle touch, Frodo groaned then muttered something, trying to turn on his side to escape the intrusive hands. His dark curls hung in dank ringlets and when he thrashed on the pillow, his head left a damp mark on the fine linen.
“His body’s temperature is too high for safety,” murmured the Elf-lord. “Sam, please draw him a bath, using water only slightly warm. I will go at once and bring another tonic, one that will counteract the other. The combination will most likely make him sick, unfortunately. Merry, Pippin, while Sam prepares the bath, please remove your cousin’s nightshirt and wash Frodo down with this cool water. Give him as much water as he will drink. I will return shortly.” Elrond rose gracefully and made to leave, then suddenly turned and addressed the feverish hobbit. “I am sorry, Frodo. I am truly sorry.” Then he was gone, the door swinging shut behind him.
His departure was so swift that it caught the hobbits unprepared. They gaped at each other for a moment, then Sam swung into action. “Right,” he barked. “You lot start on Mr. Frodo. Make sure he don’t get chilled. I’ll go for the tub, an’ start on the buckets.” With a last look at his suffering master, Sam hurried off to complete his assignment.
“Come on, Pip. We need to get some water into him quickly. Pour me a cup for him, will you?” Merry eased himself up on the side of the bed and winced as Frodo groaned again, shivering violently. “Hullo, Cousin,” Merry told him softly. “Don’t you worry, you’re going to be fine. Lord Elrond will have you fixed up in no time.” At the familiar and loved voice, Frodo turned his head towards Merry and those beautiful eyes struggled to focus on him. Merry stroked his cheek, frightened at the heat under his hand. “Pippin, where’s that water?” Looking up, he saw that Pippin hadn’t moved. “Pippin-lad?”
“What if he dies?” Pippin’s sharp face was red with suppressed tears. He had wrapped his arms across his chest and was hugging himself fiercely. “We’ve been placing bets, Merry! Betting on whether he’s strong enough to take a walk! And now he’s sick again, and he might die –“ Pippin’s voice was spiraling up into hysteria as Merry watched, frozen.
Cautious of jostling Frodo, Merry left his bedside and caught the youngster in his arms, holding him tightly. “Pip,” he murmured into the bronze curls, “I promise you that Frodo will be all right. I promise. But right now he needs you to help me help him.” Pippin was stiff in his embrace, his small body rigid. “Pippin-lad, will you help me?”
With a sob, the young hobbit relaxed, tension flowing out of his muscles. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m sorry. I just feel so guilty. Where’s the water -”
Frodo’s voice was so faint and cracked they didn’t recognize it for a second but stared blankly at the other, each knowing the other hadn’t spoken. Turning as one, they rushed to his side. Pippin reached him first, his small hands catching Frodo’s right as it strained weakly up to him.
“Pip, are you all right?” Frodo’s lips were painfully dry and it was obviously hurt to speak. Merry picked up the discarded cloth and dipped it into the basin, ran it over the cracked lips. Frodo thanked him with a look then stared again at Pippin, blinking rapidly to keep him in focus.
“Am I all right? Am I all right?” Pippin choked out a laugh then suddenly buried his head against Frodo’s chest, making the older hobbit gasp.
“Easy there, lad. Ouch!” At the last exclamation, Merry reached over and gently pulled Pippin back. Pippin clung tightly for a moment then released his cousin. He kissed Frodo on the forehead then darted over to the small table set against the wall, where the pitcher and cups waited.
He was back in a heartbeat, water sloshing from the beautifully-carved wooden cup. Merry slid behind Frodo and leaned back against the wall, lifting his shoulders carefully and supporting him against his chest so Pippin could put the cup to his lips. Frodo drank thirstily but was unable to take more than a few sips before pushing back from the cup, motioning for Merry to lay him down.
“He’s so hot, Merry,” Pippin whispered. Merry nodded. Frodo had closed his eyes again, his face flushed and sweated.
“We’ve got to cool him off. Help me, Pip.” Together they slid the sodden nightshirt off over Frodo’s head, wincing as he clenched his teeth when they had to pull his left arm up. Pouring the rest of the cooled drinking water into the basin, they set to sponging him down, trying to work quickly enough so that the constant perspiration did not settle on his fair skin and chill him.
Merry talked to him while they worked, trying to keep Frodo’s attention and prevent him from drifting away from them again. Merry kept asking questions, prodding Frodo for answers, but increasingly he was met with confused and mumbled replies, then finally silence. Frodo’s head lolled limply and he did not respond even when Pippin put his mouth next to his cousin’s pointed ear and whispered, “Frodo – mushrooms!”
The door opened and Sam returned, his arms laden with towels, leading a parade of Elves. Two carried the ornately carved tub, and four more accompanied him with large buckets of water. Last came Aragorn, sent by Elrond to assist the hobbits while the Elf-lord prepared the tonic. Sam hurried over to his master and looked into his slack face. “How’s he doing?”
“He woke up for a little while … talked to us.” After the first glance, Merry kept his eyes on Frodo, wiping away the beads of perspiration that gathered in the dark hair and ran down the fevered face. Pippin took the towels and directed the Elves to set the tub before the fire. Sam sat down on the bed and stroked the dripping hair.
Aragorn joined them, reaching over Sam’s head to lay his hand on Frodo’s brow. “Ah,” he said, his voice soft and regretful, “I was hoping he would be spared this. I wanted Elrond to let the fever run its course … in a few more days, I believe it would have burned itself out. But a fever left too long can be dangerous, consuming the body and even damaging the mind.
“The tonic he used is brewed from powerful herbs. It alone can be dangerous.” As he spoke, he raised his eyes to the unopened phial that rested on Frodo’s bedside table, left there by the Elf-lord and forgotten by them all. Its vile green color seemed more ominous than revolting now. Small specks of minced green lay at the bottom. The Ranger picked it up and pocketed it, wishing he could have stopped the first dose before it was given.
Frodo moved his head away from the Man’s hand, the heat of the contact increasing his discomfort. His so-blue eyes opened slightly and Sam leaned eagerly into his limited line of vision.
If the hobbit saw him, or any of them, he gave no sign. The glazed eyes closed. Frodo was beginning to toss in fever again, his head turning from side to side as he sought relief from the intolerable heat. The movement robbed him of rest, of the quiet his body needed. Aragorn sighed and Sam echoed him.
Pippin pulled on Aragorn’s suede tunic, leaving a small handprint from where he had tested the temperature of the water. “The bath is ready, Strider.” Behind him, the six Elves bowed and departed, with worried expressions and soft wishes for the Frodo’s recovery. The last, a tall and stately Elf with dark green eyes the color of summer leaves, turned before leaving and said softly, “We will ask Elbereth for his recovery. All of Imladris knows of the Ring-bearer’s valiant journey here. That he suffers because of the evil done him on that journey is a sorrow to our hearts.”
Merry eased off the bed and bowed in return. Next to him, Pippin bobbed quickly and Sam struggled to his feet and did also. “Thank you,” Merry said. “We appreciate your kindness.” The Elf smiled at him sadly and followed after his fellows.
Aragorn unwrapped Frodo from the damp blankets and lifted him, carrying him carefully to the bath. The other three hobbits trailed after, surrounding the small tub. Even from where they stood a step away, Merry and Pippin could feel the heat that radiated from their cousin’s skin.
Aragorn sank to his knees to put Frodo in the lukewarm water, sliding him in gently and keeping a hand under the curly head. A small wave washed back over Frodo and splashed onto Aragorn, losing Pippin’s handprint in a swell of wetness. The Ranger did not notice, his attention completely on keeping Frodo’s head above the water.
Frodo’s eyes opened widely and he thrashed, his right hand reaching up while the left lay lifeless at his side. “It’s all right, Mr. Frodo,” Sam reassured him, his grey eyes frightened. “Strider’s got you. I’m here. Merry an’ Pippin are here, too. We’re not going ‘ta let anything hurt you.”
Whether he could hear Sam or not, Frodo quieted, his eyes closing again. He lay quiescent, the almost-warm water soothing the dreadful fire that burned within him. While not truly aware of his surroundings, he felt protected and cared for and with a sigh, drifted off into his first true sleep since falling ill.
Merry sighed as he watched his cousin’s face relax and smooth out. Pippin leaned against him. “What do we do now?” he asked the Ranger.
Aragorn smiled at him over Frodo’s dark head. “We wait.”
* TBC *
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.