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Fear  by Ariel

Chapter 5 - Healer

Daisy Burrows had been the midwife of Buckland for the past 12 years. 

On the night of her daughter's birth, as she'd strained to deliver her first child, she'd decided that someone needed to care for the ladies of Buckland, and that she was the hobbit for that task, for they were certainly not getting the care they needed from anyone else. 

Daisy's water had broken almost a day before and still the labor pressed on, but it wasn't until she felt two infant feet emerging from the birth canal that Daisy had known she was in trouble.  The child was coming in the most wrong way imaginable.  It would take real skill to insure the baby both survived and was whole and she knew neither she nor the ladies attending her had it.  The only medical practitioner in the area, Doctor Albarus Clearwater, had been sent for at once.  It was well known the doctor hated being called to births, feeling that they were more a matter for the ladies than for a learned hobbit like himself, but he was the nearest, and time was pressing. 

As the day had dragged on and the doctor had not come, Daisy had grown tired and uneasy.  The child was not moving and Daisy was sick with fear that it was already dead.  At last, heeding some call she hadn't understood, Daisy stood and let gravity help her.  The ladies had held her arms and, hanging limply on them, she had pushed with her last strength.  The neighbor, kneeling by her side, had eased the child out, taking the feet forward and allowing the baby to fall into her outstretched hands instead of pulling.  Thankfully, it had worked.  Though the little girl was worn out and needed to be revived, she was alive, and as it turned out, unharmed by the traumatic birth.  When Doc Clearwater finally made it to the Burrows' home, several hours late and no longer needed, Daisy had lit into him as fiercely as her trembling body would allow.  The doctor had been incensed and had pointed out that the child was alive and healthy, confirming that he had been right all along.  Ladies knew birthing and it was best left to them.  He'd packed up his bag and left while Daisy had continued to give him a piece of her mind to chew on. 

In the years that followed, Daisy built up a fine reputation for herself, and though the Brandybucks still used the old Doc for everything but birthing, Daisy had quite a following among the lesser families of Buckland.  She studied the art of healing under the ancient Mame Twofoot of Stock, who had learned the trade from Daffydyl Banks, a scandalous hobbit lass who had reportedly run off with a wizard in her youth and had learned the skill from some great elvish lord she'd met in her travels.  Mame had been so impressed with Daisy's ability, her empathetic touch and kindness that she had taken the young hobbit lass on as her apprentice and taught her all she knew.  It was Daisy's compassion people took to, and her soothing touch was sometimes more healing than any medicine she could offer.  There were some folk who preferred the tried and true, staid and knowledgeable Doctor Clearwater to cure their ills, but for those who wanted a sweet word and someone to stay by their bedside as a comfort, there was no one better than Daisy Burrows.

Past the Hall lay the brushy outskirts of Buckleberry.  Little farms dotted the climbing hill and their fields fell away in front of them like aprons of dark earth and green.  All was quaint and quiet, well ordered and tidy.  It felt almost surreal to Darroc, considering his errand.  How could such horrible things happen in a world that seemed so at peace? 

Daisy lived up the hill in a comfortable hole on the side of the town near the Hall.  When he reached her home, puffing and disheveled, she was spinning thread on a drop spindle and sitting in the shade of an old apple tree that leaned well past her fence.  It didn't seem to bother her that the tree's largest limb looked as if it was ready to drop on her at any second, nor did it phase the energetic girl child who clambered about upon it and turned to study Darroc with eyes the same color as the sunlit leaves.  

Breathlessly, Darroc stumbled over himself to explain the situation that had brought him.  Daisy listened and went back into her hole to quickly pack her bag.  She paused only long enough to send little Mae running to the neighbor's house, the place she was usually sent when emergencies took her mother away from home before her father returned from the tobacco fields.  Daisy didn't bother to waste time catching and harnessing the pony but followed Darroc on foot across the fields back to Brandy Hall.

 ~*~

 

Primula entered Brandy Hall's sprawling hill by the north entrance and led the anxious boys through a warren of smials to the quarters she used when the family stayed there.  Her drawing room, the one she'd had as a girl, was spacious and several round tunnels led off of it.  She went straight to Frodo's chamber, little more than an alcove close to the side of the hill, and laid her unconscious son upon his bed.  Frodo's was one of the few rooms in their apartments with a window to the outside.  Primula was glad they would have the light from it to see by.

"Seredic, thank you, for what you've done, but could you do one thing more for me?" she asked.  When he nodded vigorously, she continued.  "Find Aunt Menegilda, please?  I… I could use her help."  She tried to smile but it was such an obviously false effort, Seredic felt embarrassed for her and turned away.

"Of course, Auntie," he replied and chucked Milo in the shoulder.  "Why don't you wait outside for the healer, Milo?  You can show them in when they get here."  Both boys were eager to be of use but neither wanted to see their young aunt in grief over her son.  They departed without any more urging to their appointed tasks. 

Primula turned the minute the door closed and sank onto the bed beside her child.  Fear returned in an overwhelming surge that threatened to drown her completely.  While the boys were with her she had held it at bay, but now it returned to assault her tenfold.  She could still feel Frodo going limp in her arms and the dreadful sinking sensation that clenched at her heart as she relived the moment caused her to shake with terror.  This could not be happening.  She laid a hand against his pale neck and when the movement of a pulse met her fingertips she almost swooned with relief.  He was alive.  He had not died in her arms, as she had feared.  The iron bands of panic loosened slightly around her chest.  She whispered a murmur of thanks and stroked his jaw line with her trembling thumb.  He stirred a little in response to her touch, his lips working slowly, as if he were trying to speak but no sound but the sighing whisper of his breath came forth.  Frodo's eyes were closed and his straight, dark lashes lay in stark contrast to his pale cheeks.  Dried blood was caked below his nose and across his cheek, and the swelling over his eye was growing.  Primula blew out a breath to steady herself and picked up the cloth by his washstand.  The water from the pitcher was room temperature, but she did not think she could force herself from his side to warm it.  It would have to do.  She needed to get Frodo cleaned up so that the healer could determine how badly off he was. 

He moaned when the wet cloth touched his face but did not turn away and Primula thought that was a good sign.  If he could scream then he could live, or so she told herself, and that assertion was the only thing that kept her from being swallowed by terror again.  Cleaning his face caused the cut above his eye to reopen, spilling fresh red blood over the darkening bruise, but if it pained him, he gave no sign.  She wiped his nose and lips free of dried blood, and began to attend to the scratches.  As she worked her panic struggled to return.  He was becoming less and less responsive even as she tended him.  Primula tried to quell her fears with logic.  It was a bad blow - of course he would be unconscious so soon after it - he just needed rest.  She felt a sudden desire to shake her son awake but repressed the urge and touched his softly rounded cheek instead.

"Sweeting," she whispered.  "I'm going to undress you and ready you for bed.  Do you understand?"  Frodo made no movement at all in answer and Primula bit her lip to quench her fear.  "All right then, let me know if I hurt you."  She removed his tiny waistcoat, pulling the slim unbroken arm from the garment first and then carefully maneuvering around the splinted one.  It was the same material as one of his father's - Primula had made them both for her beloved Baggins gentlehobbits.  A matched set for her two princes.  She set the garment aside and carefully slipped his left arm out of his shirt.  The right was still bound up under the splint and she dared not take that off yet.  Her fingers shook but they moved with practiced surety through the familiar task of undressing her child for bed.  These were the motions every mother knew, only…  Even after nights of storytelling and merriment when she had carried him sleeping from the Great Hall and settled him, drowsy, into his bed, he had never been quite so…still.  Something was very wrong with her beautiful child.  A sudden image came into Primula's mind, of a tiny, pale hand that lay horribly and unnaturally motionless in her own.  Frodo was becoming as limp and unresponsive as she had been.  Primula's heart gave an agonizing twist.

"Oh, my darling babe," she sobbed in sudden agony.  "Please, I can't lose you too… I can't…"  The tears she'd held back flooded her eyes and she laid her head on his small chest.  She couldn't let the grief overwhelm her again, there wasn't the space for it, but she couldn't stop the tears.  They fell on his pale skin, but he was not moved by them.

There was a firm knock on the door.  Primula bolted upright and dashed her eyes clear.  She pulled the comforter up over Frodo and hastened to the door, pausing only for one last swipe at her tear moistened cheeks.  Daisy Burrows stood outside, breathless and red faced from her sprint.  Primula had never seen a more welcome sight in her life.

"PLEASE come in!" she said, her voice only breaking into a sob at the end of the phrase.  Milo, hearing it, stepped back and allowed the healer to enter.  He waited for a moment seeking either acknowledgement or release and was relieved when the healer touched his arm in passing.  He had done the job expected and wanted nothing more than to get away from this place of hurt and sorrow.  Now that Frodo's care was in the proper hands, both he and Darroc, left panting at the Hall's entry, would need an ale or two. 

Daisy wasted time for no more than a tense nod in greeting and deposited her enormous bag on a chair next to Frodo's bed.  She sat beside the child and touched his hand below the splint. 

"This was well done," she murmured absently, tapping the binding, but her attention had already drifted to the child's head.  She waved Primula closer and bade her to move the window curtains back a bit more.  Primula hurriedly did so and the healer opened one of Frodo's eyes.  The right was not swollen and the blue of its iris shone bright in the diffuse light.  Daisy shaded the eye with her other hand and after a moment, took it away so that the light fell suddenly on the child's face.  She studied him intently but Primula could not see any notable reaction to her actions.  Daisy opened his other eye, a more difficult chore because of the swelling, and repeated the procedure.

"What are you doing?" Primula asked softly.  She liked Daisy, but her mother, Mirabella, had always insisted upon having Doc Clearwater tend her for anything and Menegilda, self-proclaimed matron of the Brandybucks also preferred him.  Primula herself had never been seen by anyone else with the exception of her last labor and she had never seen the old doctor performing this strange ritual.

"Trying to see how bad off this child is."  Daisy was feeling Frodo's skull with her fingertips, exploring the great bump on the back of his head.  The blood was drying and did not come off on the healer's hands, but Daisy could see from the stiffened locks that there had been a great deal of it.  "Was he conscious at all?" Daisy asked before Primula's panic could rise again.

"He was screaming when they brought him to me," Primula answered.  "But I held him close and he settled right down.  I thought he was just going to sleep but he went limp so fast… "  She shuddered.  "He came around just a bit when I bathed him, but he fell asleep again before I'd finished."  She was fishing for reassurances, but Daisy didn't seem to have many to give.

The midwife was looking at Frodo's face appraisingly.  "I see.  Hmmm.  Primula?  We will need water and cloths.  And would you set some to boiling so I can clean my equipment?"

Primula nodded numbly but before she could move to respond, the entry door was thrown open.  Drogo Baggins's sturdy bulk filled the opening.  He was a large hobbit, as tall and well filled out as Primula was slender and he had an aristocratically handsome face that, at the moment, was wrung with grief.  His clothes were carefully tailored and spoke more of quality than ostentation but they were not new, and a careful eye could see they had been lovingly mended.  His warm brown eyes searched the room frantically until he found Daisy and his wife in Frodo's alcove.  He strode to them with a grace that belied his size and gathered his wife to his chest.  They embraced for a moment, conforming to each other's bodies with the familiarity of long habit, and Drogo reached down to touch his boy.

"Will he be alright?" he asked tightly. 

"I've just gotten here myself, Mr.  Baggins, so I can't tell much yet," Daisy smiled as kindly as she knew how.  "But I was just asking your wife if she could get me some water - and towels.  He's got a cut on the back of his head that will need stitching, and I need to clean him up so I can make sure there's nothing else he needs."

Drogo nodded, but his face grew paler as he gazed at his motionless son.  He called out to the hall.  "Marmadas!?"  The boy who had fetched him peeked in through the door, his hat in his hands. 

"Yes, sir?"

"Water from the spring, now.  As much as you can carry.  There'll be coin in it if you are quick."  Drogo had grown up a gentlehobbit used to servants and sometimes forgot his relatives were not accustomed to being addressed that way.  Still, it got his point across and swiftly.  Marmadas darted deeper into the hall to comply. 

"Whatever else he needs?" Primula asked, feeling a bit braver and comforted now that her husband was by her side.  "Please, I… know it sounds impertinent of me, but I need to know….  Will you tell us what you have found?  How badly hurt is our son?  What do you plan to do?  I…I must know the truth."  Though Primula trusted Daisy, and would be eternally grateful to her help at Frodo's birth, she didn't know her well and wasn't sure how she would respond to someone questioning her medical practices.  Primula's own experiences with Doc Clearwater suggested that healers heartily disliked such brazen behavior. 

The healer took the cloth Primula had used earlier and wet it again.  "I make it a practice to tell my patients the truth," she murmured but did not sound offended at all.  "Although sometimes it isn't pleasant to hear."  Primula nodded and Drogo paled a bit more.  He tightened his grip on his wife.  "Very well," Daisy continued.  She sat down, raised Frodo's head and placed the folded wet washcloth under it.  "His one pupil's dilated just a bit and sluggish to respond to light.  That generally means trouble."  She gave them a look but decided not to add that that was something of an understatement.  "I suspect that since he was awake earlier and has since lost consciousness there is something going on in his head that's not good."  Primula drew a sharp breath but Daisy continued.  "I hope that it's just the muscles on the outside of his skull that are bruised and bleeding, but the stuff inside might be also."  Daisy shook her head, her frown deepening.  "I'm worried he might be bleeding under the bones."

"Is that bad?" Drogo asked.  He didn't like the tone of her voice, nor the way his wife's body trembled hearing it. 

"It could kill him," Daisy replied softly. 

Though the words were gently spoken, they fell like hammers of terror on Primula's heart.  She'd let her iron guard down when Drogo came, trusting his strength and will to be her anchor but by doing so, Daisy's grim words, echoing Primula's worst and most expected fear, were able to assail her unguarded.  She felt the swirl of despair, like the muddy waters of the flooding Brandywine, rise up again and threaten to engulf her.  Her eyes misted and she felt herself sagging against Drogo's chest.  Daisy's next words sounded as if they came from miles away.  "But there's a few things I can do, please don't despair!  There's the fact that Frodo is as young as he is.  He's what, 8?"  Primula blinked and caught the hopeful, encouraging look the midwife gave her.  As she struggled to master herself she realized that the question had been asked not for information, but to bring her out of her daze, to get her mind working again.  Daisy knew how old Frodo was; she had delivered him herself.

"He'll be 8 this year, yes…" Primula whispered numbly. 

"That's actually a blessing," Daisy continued.  "At his age, the bones of the skull are just knitting together but they aren't quite there yet.  This means there is still a bit of give and slack, some space for the pressure to be released into if it gets too high.  Of course, it all depends on how bad a blow he took."

"I see," Drogo nodded.  He wasn't sure he really did, but realized somehow that the information and talk reassured his wife, and that was what was important to him.  He had not missed her near faint - and was barely containing the panic rising in his own throat, but Primula seemed to be steadying.  He realized with a flush of gratitude that the healer had kept her focused by talking, by giving them information and options and by treating them with respect.  Drogo was suddenly very glad Ms.  Burrows was tending his son.  Primula especially would need her gentle hand to keep her whole should the unthinkable happen.  She had not had that the last time…

"What are you going to do then?" Primula asked, desperately latching onto Daisy's kind, logical voice.

"Watch and wait," Daisy replied with a soft smile.  "I will clean and stitch the cut, and set that arm proper, but we need to keep a close eye on him for the next few hours.  If he's got pressure on his brain, it'll show and I can decide on a course then.  For now, we keep him calm and quiet."  As she said this, she checked the condition of the towel she'd placed under Frodo's head.  There was no fresh blood on it. 

"But what will you do if he does have pressure?" Drogo's voice sounded steadier and less confused than he felt.

Daisy looked up at him and the lines of worry on her face deepened.  "Let's hope he doesn't," she whispered.  She gently turned Frodo's head to the side so that she could see the large bump she had felt.  The hair was matted but the wet towel had softened the drying blood and Daisy could feel the skull much more easily.  She pushed the dark locks aside and pressed her fingers gently over the entire area.  "Good thing is there are no breaks… nothing dented in…" she murmured.  "Though if he's just cracked his skull, I wouldn't be able to tell."  Primula swayed slightly but was instantly supported by her husband.  Daisy grimaced, wondering if the child's mother was indeed as prepared for the truth as she had stated. 

Primula had taken the death of her first child very hard and had placed every remaining ounce of her hope and strength into her son.  Daisy remembered the way Primula had held him when she had first laid the newborn babe in his mother's arms; as if she drew her very life's breath from his pink-faced cries.  If they lost Frodo this night, Daisy suspected his mother would not be long to follow him.  Daisy pulled the towel from under his head, and wiped at the cut over his eye.  That too had finally stopped bleeding but it left a gap in the dark line of his gently sweeping brow.  The child still showed few signs of awareness.  His skin was getting paler and was developing a slight sheen as of clammy sweat.  He was still hurting, though too deeply unconscious to physically react to her touch.  Daisy felt his pulse again and her frown deepened.  "Mistress Primula?  Can you get me some more pillows?  I'd like to raise his head a bit more.  I've got some teas I'd like to see if we can give him to ease the pain but I don't want to give him anything until it looks like he'll come 'round."

After a moment's hesitation, Primula detached from Drogo's side and went out into the great room.  She moved like one in shock, stiffly and without thought, but she brought the pillows back in short order and Daisy eased the child up to settle them under his head and shoulders. 

"Elevation will help," she muttered.  "Keeps blood from rushing to his head."  She laid him back and took a quick look in his eyes again.  Frodo's right eye was more dilated than before and this time, when Daisy let the dimmed light of the room fall on his face, the iris was even slower to close.  Her throat tightened in anguish.  It was her worst fear realized.  Blood was building up on his brain, squeezing the sensitive tissues.  If she did not act quickly, he would die.

 

TBC





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