“Hot,” Pippin murmured, trying to push the furs away.
“I know,” said Merry gently. “Your fever’s a little higher, Strider said fevers do that at night. You have to stay covered up, though.”
Pippin tried to concentrate on swallowing the tea Merry was forcing him to drink. It was hard to stay awake. He didn’t want to be sick, he wanted to be part of the laughing and talking going on in the cave.
“Is Strider mad at me for visiting with everybody? They really needed it, Mer.”
Pippin’s voice was so faint Merry had to bend down to hear him. “Between you and me, Pip,” he whispered back, “He’s quite proud of you, I can tell. He just likes to pretend to be grumpy sometimes. Even grumpier than Gimli used to be!”
“Let’s not get like that when we have to be responsible for everything, all right? Let’s be the least grumpy Thain and Master ever, promise?”
“I promise.” Merry could see that Pippin didn’t have the energy to talk anymore. “Shhh, now, no more talking. Here, I’ll tell you a story and maybe you can fall asleep. Once there was a famous Thain named Sir Peregrin the Tall, who outlawed all grumpiness in the Shire.” Pippin smiled and closed his eyes. “. . .Well one day he was walking in the Woody End when out of nowhere………..”
Frodo sat down next to Legolas and Sam, who were sitting at the entrance to the cave watching the moonlight sparkle and dance on the fall of water.
Legolas motioned to Pippin’s bed. “How does he fare?”
“His fever’s up, but Aragorn says he was expecting it. He fell back to sleep during Merry’s tale of an unsavory ruffian named Grumpy Baggins and his attempt to take over the Shire.” He shook his head in amusement. “Those Bagginses, can’t trust any of them.”
“Well, perhaps one. Or two.”
“I may have to tell Pippin the legend of Incurably Mad Meriadoc and the Old Forest.” Frodo closed his eyes to block out the glittering moonlight on the water, which was starting to make his eyes ache. He leaned back against the stones. “What are you two talking about?”
“Ithilien. It has a wholesome feel to it. I would like to return here someday.” Legolas chuckled. “Perhaps my father will assign me to stand guard over Gimli’s army of Dwarves when they invade!”
Frodo sat listening to Sam and Legolas talking quietly about trees and gardens and replanting of barren lands, the soft sound of the falling water nearly putting him to sleep. After awhile he forced his eyes open and noticed idly that the sheets of water were looking a bit blurred. He rubbed his eyes and started to get to his feet. “I must be more tired than I………” He reeled as the whole cave suddenly tilted sideways. He would have fallen if Legolas hadn’t leaped up to steady him. Sam scrambled to his feet in alarm.
“I’m all right, I just……..” Frodo clutched at Legolas’ tunic, finding it difficult to think straight. He closed his eyes against the dizziness and the pounding behind his eyes, and leaned against the Elf. “I……… I can’t………”
“Strider!” Sam’s voice seemed to come from far away. Frodo felt Legolas’s hold on him tighten as he started to sink to the ground……. then everything spun away into darkness.
Merry looked up in alarm as Legolas walked swiftly to one of the beds, Frodo lying unconscious in his arms. Aragorn, Gimli, and Sam were right behind him. Legolas lay Frodo down gently.
Aragorn sat down next to Frodo and started to examine him. “He fainted, Merry.” He shook his head, looking grave. “He’s nearly as hot as Pippin. This fever strikes so quickly……..” He looked up at Merry, then at Sam. “How are you two feeling?”
Merry and Sam exchanged looks. “I feel fine,” Merry said, somewhat frightened. “Sam?”
“So do I.” Sam wet one of the cloths and laid it on Frodo’s forehead. “And I’m staying that way.” He looked up. “What can we do?”
“Exactly as we’re doing for Pippin,” said Aragorn. “Cool cloths, rest, and helping them drink as much water as possible. I truly don’t believe they’re in any danger as long as we watch them closely.” He unbuttoned Frodo’s shirt and wrung out another cloth in the cool water, pressing it gently over Frodo’s chest and neck. Frodo’s eyelids fluttered and he opened his eyes.
“Frodo?” Aragorn said gently.
Frodo raised a shaky hand up to his eyes. “I’ve never been so dizzy,” he said weakly. Sam bent over him, pressing another cool cloth to his forehead. “Sam no,” Frodo groaned. “Stay away, I don’t want you to be sick. I have enough to answer to your Gaffer for as it is.”
“Mr. Frodo,” said Sam matter of factly, “I don’t plan on getting sick and that’s a fact. You just let us tend to you. You and Mr. Pippin will soon be right as rain, you’ll see.”
“Just…….. want to sleep……..”
“You sleep, sir,” said Sam softly. “Your Sam will be right here.”
Frodo sighed and closed his eyes, letting the darkness take him.
Morning dawned clear and bright. Pippin opened his eyes and looked around. Legolas saw that he was awake and came to sit by him.
“Your fever is nearly gone, little one. How are you feeling?”
“Better, but awfully tired.” He yawned. “Where is everybody?”
“Fishing,” the Elf smiled. “Sam says the pool below is full of fish. How does that sound for breakfast?”
Pippin thought about it. “It sounds wonderful. I’ve never heard a more wonderful idea. I haven’t eaten in weeks, maybe months.” He noticed Frodo sleeping near him. “Shhhh, Frodo’s still asleep.”
“Frodo got a little ill last night.” said Legolas gently. “He’ll be feeling much better soon, just as you are.”
“Frodo’s sick too?” Pippin’s eyes suddenly filled with tears. “Anyone else?” Legolas shook his head. “This is my fault,” Pippin whispered. “I never should have…….” He frowned, wiping his eyes. “No, I had to visit those Men, I just had to. They didn’t have anybody else, they didn’t have anyone to talk to.” He looked at Legolas defiantly.
“You are correct,” said Legolas. “Do not regret your kind deeds. You are getting well, and Frodo soon will be.”
Sam and Merry, improvising with Faramir’s basins and plates, baked the abundance of fish they had caught over a fire kindled next to the pool. Everyone sat at the table and ate their fill, with Pippin propped up in bed devouring everything Merry could bring him.
“Strider, Frodo’s awake!” called Pippin.
“He’s all right, Frodo.” Aragorn came over swiftly and laid a hand on Frodo’s brow, which was still too hot. “Pippin’s much better. Just rest. Take some water, that’s it.”
“Pip, it’s very important……” Frodo said faintly.
Pippin leaned over as far as he could and touched Frodo’s shoulder. “I’m right here, Frodo.”
Frodo gazed at him intently, eyes bright with fever. “Thorongil does so rhyme with things. I can think of all kinds of-----”
“Is he delirious?” asked Sam anxiously.
Aragorn sighed. “A bit.” What had he been thinking, telling Pippin so much about his past? Oh well, it was a good distraction for the hobbits, who were eyeing Frodo with concern. He might as well play along.
“You know, Frodo,” he said, “I was going to ask you to be part of my coronation ceremony. Now I think you can just stand in the back with the rest of your disrespectful cousins and try to see over everyone’s heads. Sam can represent the lot of you.”
“That’s okay,” murmured Frodo sleepily.
“If Faramir lets you into the city, that is,” piped up Pippin.
“That’s right, Strider,” said Merry with a grin, “Maybe you’d better stand in the back with us while Sam puts in a good word for you.”
Aragorn sighed in mock frustration. “I believe my first proclamation as king will be to declare that all Shire residents have gone completely insane.”
“Mad Baggins,” Frodo mumbled.
“It was bound to get out, cousin Frodo,” said Merry sweetly. “I mean, only someone completely crazy would have volunteered to take that blasted Ring in the first place!”
“What about me?” asked Sam.
“There’s still hope for you, Sam,” said Pippin helpfully. “You’re not related to this family.”
Aragorn addressed Legolas and Gimli with a wink. “We *could* accidentally just leave them all here. We could sneak the whole encampment off to Minas Tirith, leave no trail, no map…… maybe they’d never find us.”
“Hah! Gandalf would never let you do that,” Pippin said. That settled, his gaze fell on a piece of bread on Gimli’s plate. “Are you eating that?”