3. Journey to Ithilen
Journey to Ithilien.
Legolas called to the driver that they were ready to leave. The wagon slowly moved off westwards towards Ithilien.
Pippin cried out pitifully as the movement jolted his ribs. Aragorn made no sound to voice his distress. However, he twisted his fingers more tightly around Sam's. The gardener grimaced at the pressure on his raw palm but made no sound of protest.
"Why didn't Gandalf return to bid us farewell?" Gimli asked in a tone, which suggested he felt the Wizard, was very thoughtless not to do so.
"I think he dared not," Legolas answered sadly.
"Dared not?" The Dwarf sounded incredulous.
"I believe he feared if he saw his friends again in such distress, he would be tempted to break the rules of his order and intervene." Legolas explained.
"And so he should!" Gimli retorted, "The best of Middle- earth lie here suffering; in need of aid far beyond our skills!"
"Peace, Gimli!" Legolas cautioned, fearful he would upset the Hobbits. "You underestimate the skill the Elves," he added, with a confidence he did not feel. How he wished he had spent more time learning from the healers at his father's Court instead of concentrating solely on the arts of war. He had been trained to tend minor injuries; but had paid little heed, preferring to leave the care of the wounded, to those skilled in healing.
While Gimli bathed the feverish Frodo's face, Legolas started to rub Aragorn's feet, hoping it would rouse him. The King, however, seemed unaware of his presence.
He looked up and saw Pippin watching him with a worried expression.
"What truly ails him, Legolas?" he asked, struggling painfully to breathe. "I too, was wounded in the battle. Yet, I don't see such fear in your eyes. I know Strider is of far greater value than I, yet it seems more even than that that which troubles you."
Gimli hastened to reassure him. "Never say that again, Pippin!" he chided. "We are especially worried about Aragorn because Middle- earth's fate still rests upon his shoulders. Sauron is defeated but the people are leaderless. We are tending him best we can and hoping he sense our need for him and be heartened by it."
Legolas listened uncomfortably, then hastened to change the subject; fearful of the direction the conversation was taking. He propped another pillow under Pippin's head to ease his breathing and remarked. "You need fresh compresses on your bruises, Pippin," he said. "They will no longer be cold enough to reduce the swellings."
Pippin groaned when the blankets were drawn back from his battered body and the now warm cloths removed.
Gimli dipped them in a tub of cold water and wrung them out then handed them to Legolas who in turn laid them across Pippin's tender flesh. The cold seared his bruised skin and he started to shiver violently.
Legolas wished he had a healer's eye to deduce whether the bruises were improving. He was only thankful that Sam was unable to see the extent of Pippin's injuries with Aragorn lying between them. As for poor Frodo, he was too feverish, to be aware of anything. Not for the first time, he feared that Mithrandir had overestimated their skills.
Gimli caught his eye "You're doing it exactly as Aragorn did, Master Elf," he commented reassuringly "For once, I don't think a Dwarf could do better!"
Legolas smiled faintly.
"I'll hold Strider's hand too, then," Pippin volunteered. "I want to help. He's always been so kind to us. Help me, Gimli!" He stretched out a small and shaky hand as he spoke.
The Dwarf took it and guided it to the man's but this time there was no response to both the Hobbit's and Dwarf's dismay.
"We had better change Aragorn's compresses too." he said, at a loss what to do next, "I suppose that is what he would do himself."
Gimli pulled the blanket off the wounded man and sighed. If the bruises had looked bad before, now they appeared far worse, great spreading patches of red, blue, and purple, concentrated on his left side and now spreading across his entire body leaving only a few patches of uninjured flesh visible. The stark whiteness of the bandages where they were not stained with blood, only served to make the injuries look worse.
Now that he beheld his friend and protector's injuries for the first time, Pippin gulped and fought back a wave of nausea. He was reminded of an incident from his childhood, which had haunted his dreams for twenty years or more
The young Pippin had been put to bed early one winter evening. Suddenly, he had been awakened by the sound of loud voices outside his room. He was used to the Thain, his father having visitors; however, these particular voices sounded agitated, quite unlike those of the usual guests who came to eat and discuss the affairs of the Shire. He had crept out of bed and down the hallway to the living room. The door was slightly open and he had peered inside.
There on the couch, lay Hobbiton's miller, partly divested of his clothing and surrounded by the local healer, the Thain, and several servants laden with towels, bandages and bowls of hot water.
He could see that the Miller's body was covered in bruises and cuts. He overheard the healer saying something about him being beaten up and his father vowing that the ruffians would be caught.
Just then Pippin's sister, Pearl, had noticed him standing in the doorway and had hustled him back to bed. He remembered asking her who had hurt the Miller and her terse reply "Some of the big people."
"If the King returned, wouldn't he protect us and keep the big people out of the Shire?" he had asked.
"We've not had a king in over a thousand years nor are ever likely to again. It's just an old saying. We Shire folk have to protect ourselves," she had replied, as she shepherded him back into his room and firmly shut the door.
Pippin's sheltered existence had been shaken by the experience. He could not understand why anyone should want to hurt anyone else. However, as no one had ever mentioned it again in his hearing, he soon pushed the memory to the back of his mind where apart from the occasional nightmare in the years that followed, it had stayed until now.
Maybe he would tell Strider, if he recovered, when he recovered, he corrected himself feeling very near to tears. He had never realised the big folk could bruise as badly as Hobbits.
Then wasn't Strider the long lost King? Yet, surely a king would be invulnerable, not lying beside him badly wounded? Apart from being much taller and not having hairy feet, he wasn't all that much different from a Hobbit.
He had always thought a king would be powerful, frightening, and invincible, sitting on a golden throne wearing a crown. Not one of those somewhat frightening Rangers! Yet, Strider had been so kind to him and protected him on their travels. Now that was how he imagined a king to be, a protector. Strider was certainly that. He clasped the limp hand more tightly, trying not to cry at his friend's condition.
Gimli tried to turn Pippin's head away. "Don't look, Pippin, it will only upset you! Just keep holding his hand."
He wanted to obey the Dwarf but couldn't tear his eyes away. It was bad enough that Boromir had fallen but surely not Strider too?
Legolas placed the last compress on Aragorn's leg and pulled the blankets around him again, shaking his head when the King started to shiver violently. "I fear the fever grows worse. He is burning then freezing," he observed sadly.
Gimli grabbed an extra blanket and tucked it round the man. His shivering gradually lessened, though Pippin still thought his hand felt cold and clammy. He rubbed his small fingers across Aragorn's large palm remembering sadly, how strong the same hand had felt, when he had clasped it in the Houses of Healing That seemed a lifetime ago now, yet how long was it, ten days, eleven?
Tears threatened to choke him, he struggled not cough without success, and the pain tore through him like a knife. If only he could breathe properly!
Gimli was instantly beside him trying to calm his panic. "Easy now, Pippin. The air will soon get better, just stay calm!"
It was too much to bear. He lapsed into a merciful unconsciousness.
Gimli anxiously checked he was still breathing. "How much more can these poor Hobbits endure?" he mused sadly, tucking the blankets more closely round him.
Sam still clung grimly to Aragorn's hand and tried to think of anything save the plight of his unconscious friends. He had refused to give up hope in Mordor. For a few glad moments, it had seemed that his hope was rewarded, when he had awoken with Strider bending over him and telling him that Frodo lived. Now it seemed those hopes were all in vain after all. The grim and all too real prospect; that Frodo, Pippin, and Strider might all die, was unbearable to him and he tried to distract himself by thinking of the Shire.
It would be spring now, so fresh and green, the blossom would be out, and the birds would be singing as they nested in the woods and gardens. This time last year, he had helped Farmer Cotton plant his potatoes. The farmer's daughter Rosie had brought him a mug of cider when the work was finished. Their hands had touched briefly, when she had handed it to him. He had looked in her eyes and thought her, the most beautiful lass he had ever seen.
The next day, he had walked with her and her brothers down by the river. He had thought of asking her to dance with him at Mister Pippin's party the following week, but he had been too shy. Now he wished he had spoken up and told her how beautiful she was.
The wagon came to a juddering halt to allow the driver to rest the horses. Legolas and Gimli got out to stretch their legs and then kindled a fire to cook some stew for themselves and broth for the Hobbits. They also boiled water to mix infusions of willow bark tea to ease their patients' pain and fever and spooned it down their throats as best they could during their lucid moments.
The next two days stretched out in a seemingly endless nightmare of monotony and pain; made easier only by the fact that each mile they travelled away from Mordor meant fresher, cleaner air.
To Pippin, the journey meant ever increasing pain in his ribs and head as the motion of the wagon jostled them. He slept fitfully and wished only that they could be still and something; anything would ease the pain for the willow bark had little effect. The jolting aggravated his wounds and he soon started to burn with fever
Sam lay mainly wakeful and troubled, watching his friends suffer, but too weak now even to lift his hand unless Legolas or Gimli helped him. However, he kept drinking the water and broth he was offered. Legolas and Gimli dared hope that he, at least, might survive.
Frodo's fever continued to rage unabated and he cried out constantly as if trying to ward off some unseen enemy.
Aragorn burned with fever but hardly moved at all nor cried out. Legolas and Gimli had to struggle to force him awake sufficiently to swallow water and herbal brews.
Only once did he open his eyes and trying vainly to focus on the faces swimming before him, he whispered.
"How are the Hobbits?"
"They live still." Legolas said gravely." How do you fare?"
Aragorn was unconscious again before he could reply.
They reached Ithilien by the morning of the third day. The driver halted the wagon in a fair glade. A stream flowed alongside a grassy meadow, surrounded by groves of trees just coming into full leaf.
Legolas stumbled from the wagon, stiff after the long journey and took deep breaths of the sweet air, rejoicing to be in the open again. He stood for a few moments just enjoying being in the fresh air, surrounded by trees and open sky ,before rather reluctantly rejoining Gimli.
The Dwarf was kneeling beside Aragorn and frantically rubbing the man's hands. "He grows worse," Gimli said bitterly. "The Wizard's words of hope were false!"
"Let us carry him outside," suggested the Elf. "Maybe the sweet air, the fresh grass and birds' joyous song will revive him .The driver is occupied watering the horses, so now is a good time."
Gimli grunted but nevertheless helped the Elf to carefully carry Aragorn from the wagon. They laid him behind some trees out of sight of the driver and placed the Hobbits on either side of him.
Sam continued to clutch Aragorn's large hand in his small one, though it was doubtful the man was aware of his presence.
There was much to carry, tents, blankets, food, weapons, cooking pots and healing supplies.
The wagon was almost empty when suddenly; they heard the thunder of hoof beats in the distance.
Gimli rushed protectively to Aragorn's side. Legolas grabbed his bow and strung an arrow, anticipating some fleeing rider from the enemy or maybe the vanguard of a fresh attack. The Dwarf brandished his axe, ready to defend his friends with his life if need be.
The driver stayed by the horses, evidently poised to mount one and flee from the approaching danger.
"To think we have come all this way only to be slaughtered now!" groaned Gimli.
"We shall fight and give our lives if need be for Aragorn and the Hobbits," Legolas replied, poised with his bow.
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.