9. Two Interludes of (Almost) Quiet
“Not yet, Bilbo! I want to walk a little more,” protested Frodo, a thin sheen of perspiration making his pale face glisten. Bilbo shook his white head - twice around the courtyard had taken all of the youngster’s strength, and still he wanted to press himself. Ignoring him, Bilbo tugged on Frodo’s arm (the right, and very gently) and hitched himself up on the Elf-sized bench. Frodo was obliged to follow or continue standing … and he barely could. Stubbornness might be a Baggins’ trait, Bilbo thought (as he had told those two young rapscallions), but Frodo went clear through one side of stubborn and out the other.
Frodo edged himself up on the bench and waited for his breathing to even out. Two turns around this little space and he could barely stand. How was he ever going to walk to the other side of the world?
Watching the young hobbit from the corner of his eye, Bilbo mused on the wisdom that age brought. Frodo was still young enough that everything had to be ‘now’ for him. It was only a fortnight ago that Glorfindel had carried his dying nephew into Rivendell and placed the limp form in Elrond’s arms. It had been close, so very close. It was just over a week that Frodo was out of danger of immediate death. Or worse… Hastily, Bilbo turned from that trail of thought.
With the impatience of the young, Frodo wanted to be better now. Bilbo hoped that last night’s unwise excursion to the Hall of Fire had shown Frodo that not always could a determined will override a damaged body. His poor nephew’s hangover had dissipated in fresh air and a full stomach, but Bilbo had stored away Lord Elrond’s little trick, to use it himself if he ever had to.
Beside him, Frodo blew out a final long exhalation and rolled his shoulders carefully, mindful of pulling the closing flesh on the wound. Bilbo knew it still ached abominably and Frodo had completed most of this afternoon’s short walk with his left arm pressed into his body and an odd, strained set to his features.
“Better there, lad?” Bilbo asked.
Frodo nodded, then found his voice. “Sorry, Bilbo. I didn’t mean to be so demanding. I want to go to the Library, as soon as I can walk that far.” The dark head dipped and Frodo stared unseeing at the fall flowers planted in ordered ranks in the flowerbeds. “It is terrifying to be so helpless,” he added softly.
Bilbo’s generous old heart was wrung for the young hobbit, whom he loved more than any other soul in the world. Seeing the youngster sitting there, in pain and obviously exhausted, hurt him more than he could bear. “Frodo, my lad,” Bilbo said softly, “why don’t you lie down on this nice warm bench and take a nap? I’ll be your pillow. You look exhausted, my boy.”
Automatically, the lad started to deny that he was tired, then Frodo paused and the mask dropped before the one person he would allow to see him as fatigued and hurting as he felt. “Are you sure you wouldn’t mind, Bilbo?” he asked, thick lashes already drooping.
Bilbo laughed softly and gently stroked the sweated curls out of Frodo’s eyes. “Lay down, lad. You aren’t so grown-up that your old uncle can’t hold you while you sleep.”
With a heartfelt sigh, Frodo sank down on the sun-warmed stone and placed his head in Bilbo’s lap. An Elf or a man could not have stretched out on the bench but two hobbits, one leaning against the wall behind the bench, and one reclining, fit perfectly. In two breaths, the exhausted hobbit was asleep.
An hour later, Aragorn came to accompany them in for tea. Letting himself into the courtyard from one of the side doors, the Ranger paused to regard the two motionless forms. Bilbo had fallen asleep, one hand resting in Frodo’s dark curls and the other reaching down to hold the slender hand that lay on his breast. White head sunk on his chest, Bilbo snored softly. Aragorn saw that the lines of pain on Frodo’s pale face had eased, and he slept more peacefully than the Ranger had ever seen him, safe and loved in Bilbo’s lap.
He regretted waking them but Frodo needed to eat. Placing a hand on Bilbo’s frail shoulder, he shook it gently. With a snort, the old hobbit opened bleary eyes and looked up, then smiled when he saw who had disturbed his rest. Frodo shifted but did not wake, burrowing deeper into his uncle’s warm lap.
“He doesn’t look any older, you know,” commented Bilbo softly. “From when I left him, I mean. Seventeen years ago. Samwise and Merry look older than he does.” A withered hand stroked the dark curls and in his sleep, Frodo smiled. “That’s the Ring’s doing, isn’t it?”
Aragorn nodded. “So I understand it. Gandalf would better explain it.”
As if he felt the weight of their gazes, or heard something named that disturbed him, Frodo’s dark brows quirked and he tensed. Bilbo’s hand resumed its gentle stroking and he relaxed. “He’s been having nightmares, you know,” Bilbo said in that quiet voice. “Samwise told me. He’s heard him cry out in the night and come in, thinking he was wanted. Frodo was all tangled up in the sheets, sweating like he was running a race, with tears streaming down his face. Sound asleep. Sam says sometimes he hears him speaking, saying ‘don’t’ or ‘leave me alone’… Sam says he’s scared to wake him but he can’t stand to just let him suffer.”
The Ranger was silent, sorrow etched on his wind-roughened features. “Perhaps Elrond could give him something for dreamless sleep. At least until he can fight off such dreams on his own.”
Bilbo laughed, his voice still soft. “I don’t think Frodo’s very eager to take another of Elrond’s tonics. The nourishing ones taste awful, too, even if they don’t make him sick. Now that his poor stomach’s recovered, though, I imagine he’ll be given them.”
Aragorn nodded again, a faint smile tugging at his lips. “Elrond has a better measure of hobbits now, my friend. Such miscalculation won’t happen again.”
Bilbo raised his head and Aragorn was startled by the rage in those earth-brown eyes. “Why Frodo?” the old hobbit demanded softly.
“Why…” the Ranger repeated, not understanding his old friend’s sudden anger.
“Why Frodo? Why must he suffer? My lad never hurt anyone in his life.” The dark brows quirked again and immediately Bilbo modulated his voice, returning to a soft, whispering tone. The gnarled hand continued its reassuring stroking. But the fury in his brown eyes was unabated.
The Ranger was drawn aback. When he did not answer, Bilbo continued. “Why was he chosen to bear the Ring? Who decided that he would be chased and hunted and hurt and wounded? He almost died. And now,” the old one struggled to contain himself and not disturb the sleeper, “now he will bear that evil thing across the face of Middle-earth, and destroy it?
“Is it my fault? Because I found the evil thing? Have I done this to him – and worse to come?” Bilbo’s face had gone grey, though high color rose in his wrinkled cheeks. Tears pressed against his eyes.
The Ranger had no answers for him. Slowly he knelt by the old hobbit and placed both hands on Bilbo’s shoulders, staring into his eyes across the sleeping body of his soul-son. “I cannot answer these questions, Bilbo. You know I can’t. I doubt if anyone could, even Gandalf or Elrond.”
The Ranger paused and pressed the thin shoulders. “You know, Gandalf told me that Frodo asked him that question, back when he first discovered that it was the One Ring which you had passed on to him. Gandalf told him something like … ‘it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom, at any rate.’ I can add nothing more to that, other than to say that I have seen the mettle your nephew is made of, Bilbo, and those cousins of his and Sam – and you. It is indeed the hour of the Shirefolk.”
Bilbo raised a hand from Frodo’s thick curls and laid it atop one of the Ranger’s on his shoulder. “Thank you, my friend,” he said softly. Looking down into Frodo’s sleeping face, he added softly, “Let us hope it is enough.” He closed his eyes for a moment then scrubbed at them, and gently jostled the dark head in his lap. “Frodo. Frodo-lad, wake up.”
“It’s too early, Bilbo,” mumbled Frodo inarticulately, and tried to turn over. One knee came in painful contact with the wall behind the bench and he grunted. “Ow,” Frodo complained, dragging his eyes open. He stared at the wall for a moment, puzzled, then remembered where he was and pulled himself up into a sitting a position, still leaning on Bilbo sleepily.
“Hullo, Frodo,” said Aragorn, gravely.
“Hullo, Aragorn,” Frodo returned. He rubbed his stomach and glanced around them. “About teatime, isn’t it?”
‘Hobbits really are the most amazing creatures,’ the Ranger thought, as he followed them inside.
* * * * *
The Ranger would have been most surprised to learn that at that exact same moment, Elrond Halfelven was thinking the exact same thing. Encountering the young halflings on his way to his study, he had accepted their invitation to join them for tea. Now he sat with them in his kitchens (somewhat to the consternation of the cooks, who were unused to their lord sitting at one of the great tables and eating on wooden plates instead of in his study on the finest china), and watched and marveled as they ate and ate and ate and talked and talked and talked.
Pippin, Merry and Samwise moved about him in what seemed to be an astonishing whirl of activity, rarely sitting still for more than a few moments at a time. Sam kept trying to serve them and was either ignored or circumvented by the other two. The two cousins sat for a instant swinging their short legs off the bench, then popped up and down, fetching that, refilling this, helping themselves to “just a bite more” of whatever. He did not know whether their seemingly-perpetual movement resulted from their youth or their species. Fascinated, he watched – and listened. Instead of the thoughtful pauses of Elves, they chattered, argued, interrupted each other, contradicted each other and cheerfully insulted each other. In all of his thousands of years, Elrond had never experienced such behavior in houseguests before.
After recovering from their initial awe of him, these three treated him almost as if he was a very large hobbit. Even his most forbidding gaze, known to make mighty Elves quail, did not intimidate Meriadoc. Pippin still would edge behind his cousin when that ageless gaze turned on him, but the sight of that curly head peering at him from around Merry would invariably soften the Elf-lord. Samwise he respected as well as liked; the little gardener’s loyalty and good hobbit-sense was a wonder to the Master of Rivendell. Separately, these small folk were a marvel to the Elf-lord; together, Elrond found them a little overwhelming.
The Ring-bearer, Elrond reflected, was actually the one he knew the least. Frodo had been unconscious those first four days, as the Elf-lord had struggled to save his life. Then he had been weak and ill, passing in and out of awareness for several days. Only recently had Frodo been strong enough to even rise from his bed. Now the problem seemed to be keeping him in it long enough to complete his recovery…
The Elf-lord gradually became aware of something lacking in his long life recently – silence. Looking up from his ruminations, he found he was being regarded by three sets of anxious eyes.
“My lord?” Merry repeated.
“Forgive me, Master Meriadoc. I was lost in my thoughts,” answered Elrond.
“I just wanted to know when you thought Frodo would be able to take his walk around the garden. I know that last turn set him back a bit. Do you think he’ll be fit in a day or two?”
“Concerned about The Wager, Meriadoc?” The Elf-lord smiled to remove any sting from his words. Merry returned the smile, not at all abashed. Sitting on the other side of Pippin, Sam looked like he wanted to say something and was visibly restraining himself. “I have,” Elrond continued, “asked Estel to have tea with Frodo and Bilbo. I will hear his opinion on our invalid’s recovery and then form my own.”
Merry nodded, his blue eyes sparkling. “Fair enough, my lord. We await your decision.” Pippin and Sam exchanged a glance, then stared at their spotlessly glistening plates.
* 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.