9. Reawakening and reunion
Epilogue - Reawakening and Reunion.
Éomer lingered for another night to satisfy himself that Aragorn was truly on the way to recovery. Aragorn had now pieced together the full story of how Gandalf had sent him here with Legolas and Gimli, trusting that the love of his friends would somehow entreat the Valar to spare him He took the Elf and the Dwarf aside and thanked them profusely for their devotion to him and the Hobbits.
They would never be Healers, but the ways of the Valar were unknown to Men, for who would ever have thought, that Hobbits could destroy the Dark Lord's Ring.
He thanked Éomer too; knowing the events of the past days would seal their fledgling friendship.
The King of Rohan, then after giving the King of Gondor and Arnor many injunctions not to overtax himself, left just after sunrise, riding with all haste to give Gandalf the good tidings.
The days passed peacefully, Frodo and Sam slept dreamlessly, oblivious of their friends devoted ministrations to their needs and only dimly aware of occasionally half waking to swallow food and water.
After his initial uncertainty, Aragorn now knew he had done the best thing to enable the Hobbits to heal. He too, was able to rest and slowly regain his strength while enjoying the companionship of Legolas, Gimli and Pippin.
"You haven't smoked your pipe these last days, Strider," Pippin commented on the day after Éomer left.
"I will soon be crowned King and must put aside such pastimes," Aragorn told him gravely, thinking that if his hopes were realised and Arwen were to wed him, renouncing her immortality by so doing, it was the least he could do in return. Elves found the smell of pipeweed most obnoxious.
"Being King, doesn't sound much fun then, if you can't do as you wish!" Pippin retorted. "If I were King, I would smoke best Longbottom leaf each day and order ten long breaks daily for meals between my duties. "
Aragorn grinned. "I fear your kingdom would soon run out of food, Master Peregrin, and fall to ruin while you enjoyed yourself, now I shall set a good example!"
Pippin returned the grin. "I never expected anything else, your majesty, I shall have to reform!"
Aragorn laughed. "You only need call me that in public!" he said." And please, Pippin, do not treat me differently when I take the throne. I need someone to keep my feet planted firmly on the ground!"
"We'll make sure of that!" chorused Pippin, Legolas, and Gimli. The friends laughed together, knowing that such opportunities would be all too few in the days that lay ahead.
Soon afterwards, the Host, headed by Gandalf, returned from Mordor. The Wizard greeted Aragorn with a joyous smile, but no word passed between them about Aragorn's ordeal. Gandalf merely enquired after the Hobbits and went to greet Pippin and look at Frodo and Sam as they slept on, unaware of his presence.
The sons of Elrond rushed to greet their foster brother with looks of joyful amazement to see him back on his feet, but again no words were spoken as all judged it best that as few as possible should know of how close Middle Earth had come to losing its newly appointed king. The twins also felt guilty that they had not gone with Aragorn and the Hobbits, but Gandalf had been adamant that the Valar alone could decide their fate, making their skills more useful to those remaining with the Host.
Aragorn was still rather pale and moved stiffly, but only those who knew him well would have attributed it to anything other than fatigue. He was now in charge of the company, but Gandalf, Imrahil, and Éomer shared the burdens of State with him while he recovered.
Early the next morning, the first baggage train arrived from Minas Tirith and a small figure jumped from the leading wagon and ran towards Aragorn, who had been seated under the banner of the White Tree debating matters of state with Gandalf and Imrahil.
Both King and Wizard rose to their feet to greet him.
"It's good to see you again!" exclaimed Merry, as the friends embraced. "But where is Pippin, and Frodo and Sam?" He looked around anxiously.
"They are recovering well," Aragorn replied.
"What happened to them? Tell me, please!" Merry's features were pale with anxiety.
Aragorn decided a truthful approach was best. "Frodo and Sam were exhausted, badly dehydrated and starving after their journey through Mordor," the King replied quietly, keeping his eyes on Merry's ashen features. "Their bodies are almost healed but not so their minds. They were so tormented by their ordeal, they could find no rest, so I sent them into a healing sleep, in which they will need to remain for several days longer yet."
"What about Pippin? Tell me, I beg you!" Merry pleaded, plucking at Aragorn's sleeve in his anxiety.
Aragorn smiled reassuringly at the anxious Hobbit." Pippin was badly injured. Yet, his powers of recuperation amaze me! He slew a cave troll and it fell on him, crushing his ribs badly, but he is already well on the way to recovery. He has missed you, Merry; I will take you to him now."
Aragorn excused himself to Imrahil and Gandalf, then taking Merry's hand, led the apprehensive Hobbit to a grove of trees where Pippin was sitting propped up on a pallet.
On one side of him, lay Sam and Frodo, sleeping deeply, while on the other sat Legolas and Gimli engaged in an argument as to whether the wounded would recover faster resting in caves or under trees.
"I fear you cannot embrace him yet, as his ribs are still healing," Aragorn warned Merry.
Pippin looked up and saw his cousin. "Merry, you've come!" he cried.
"Pippin, I've missed you so much!" Merry clasped his cousin's hand and kissed him warmly.
"I've missed you too, but Strider has looked after me well," Pippin replied.
Both cousins then burst into tears as Merry knelt at Pippin's bedside.
Aragorn beckoned to Legolas and Gimli to leave the Hobbits to their reunion. As the King walked away, he found himself brushing away a tear of his own.
April 8th 3019 T.A
"We have made all the preparations for the celebration this afternoon," Imrahil announced. "The Minstrels are awaiting your orders. Do you wish the tailors to measure the Hobbits while they still sleep?"
"A good idea," said Gandalf. "We need to be certain the new garments will fit properly."
"They should wear them for the celebration and not those filthy rags they wore in Mordor!" Aragorn complained.
"It is fitting that all see them as they were when they saved Middle- earth. No other garments could be noble," the Wizard replied.
"Well, ensure that Frodo has at least soft undergarments to wear," the King insisted. "It has taken many days of treatment with salves for his skin to heal."
"I will stay out of sight while you awaken Frodo," Gandalf said, changing the subject. "It might alarm him to see me as he believes I fell in Moria."
The tailor bowed deeply and fled when Aragorn approached Frodo's bedside.
"Why are people suddenly so afraid of me?" he asked Éomer. "I could have been transformed into a Warg from the way they treat me!"
"You have become a king," Éomer told him ruefully, "I am learning it has its drawbacks, but no doubt we will become accustomed to it."
"Either that, or I issue a degree forbidding anyone to run away when they see me approaching!"
Both men laughed before Aragorn became serious again as he prepared to awaken the Hobbits. "Will you fetch Merry and Pippin?" he asked Éomer "It should help Frodo to see his cousins are safe and well. It will be best to awaken Sam afterwards. I do not wish him to start worrying about Frodo the instant he wakes up."
When Éomer had gone, Aragorn knelt by Frodo's bedside and hesitantly placed a hand on his brow. He knew it was time for the Ring bearer to awaken. His hurts were now healed, and the bandage round his damaged hand, was now more to prevent him being shocked at the sight of the missing finger, rather than to cover an open wound. Yet, he feared he would still awaken to despair. He dreaded seeing the fear in Frodo's eyes again.
Taking a deep breath, Aragorn lightly brushed Frodo's eyelids with his fingertips and then took one of the small hands between his own large ones. "Frodo, awake!" he called.
Frodo slowly opened his eyes and met Aragorn's anxious gaze. "Strider, where am I?" he asked." What happened?"
"You are safe in Ithilien, Frodo. You and Sam achieved the Quest. The eagles rescued you, " Aragorn smiled reassuringly at the Hobbit.
"The last thing I can remember is Sam leading me to higher ground when Mount Doom exploded." Frodo said thoughtfully. He then became agitated." Sam, where is Sam?"
"He is sleeping in the next bed to you. He will awaken soon." Aragorn lifted Frodo and turned him so that he could see his friend.
"We're alive, we made it!" Frodo clutched Aragorn's fingers, as if to reassure himself that the other were real. "I remember now."
Aragorn held his breath.
Frodo looked at his bandaged hand. "Gollum bit off my finger and Sam was upset that had nothing to bind it with, then there was dust and ash everywhere. We thought we'd never see the Shire again! And how we've here, we're alive and safe." He laughed joyfully.
Aragorn heaved an inward sigh of relief. He patted Frodo on the shoulder and rose to his feet.
Merry came running across the grass and flung his arms around his cousin. Pippin followed more slowly. He had only been able to get out of bed for the first time the previous day.
"Frodo, you're awake, I'm so happy!" The cousins' joyful laughter rang round the field .All who heard it, rejoiced.
Aragorn left the cousins to their joyful reunion. How he wished that his young Steward could be here today. He,too had helped to bring about Sauron's destruction by aiding the Hobbits and resisting the lure of the Ring. Faramir had been invited, but was still too frail to travel. The King knew not what the future might hold, but today was a time for celebration. His own wounds and those of the Hobbits were healing, Middle Earth was saved from Sauron's evil, and spring had come again, the spring they never thought they would live to see. Truly, they were blessed by the Valar.
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