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Fear  by Ariel

 Chapter 11 - Hope

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It didn't hurt anymore. Well, as long as he didn't move, it didn't, and that was a decided improvement. The world had become a sea of warm light that moved like ripples in the water or sunlit bed sheets on the line wafting in a gentle summer breeze. At times, these curtains would briefly part and he would catch a glimpse of forms moving through that same golden light. It was too bright for him to be able to make out faces but the fact that there was someone there in the room beside him was comforting. There were sounds too; voices speaking in hushed tones, but he was too at ease to bother trying to work out what they were saying. A muted whisper like the sigh of wind stirring fields of ripened wheat lulled him. He wasn't frightened any more. It was just pleasant to float while brightness, comfort and safety enveloped him.

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"The best possible news, you say?" Menegilda had finally composed herself enough to ask the question. "Then my nephew will be alright? Oh, please, doctor, give me some relief. I have been beside myself since you gave that midwife care of the child! I could not imagine what you were thinking!"

Clearwater stared thoughtfully at the hallway down which Drogo had disappeared. His brows were drawn and he didn't appear to have even noted Menegilda had spoken. At last he glanced at his patronness, looking as if he wasn't quite sure how to word something unpleasant. "Best news?" he said with an apologetic but sad smile. "Yes, I know that is what I said. Perhaps it is. Time will tell for certain. But my most pressing concern is for my patient, Primula, not her son." The doctor sighed, took his pipe from his pocket and shook his head. "For her sake it might have been better had the child not survived."

At Menegilda's gasp, he paused searching among his various pockets and gave her a grim and uncomfortably cold smile. "I have treated head injuries before, madam," he said in an almost haughty tone. "The senses are more precarious and fleeting than most realize. Rarely are those as badly injured as young Frodo left unaffected. Most often they die, but those who survive are usually less than they were before...." His voice trailed off meaningfully and Menegilda felt a chill stealing over her. "I know Primula is a strong lass," the doctor continued. "But she is alarmingly devoted to that child. It's not normal, and I've always thought no good would come of it. Now I fear I shall be proven right." Clearwater found his pouch and sat back in his chair to fill his pipe as his words settled in the dame's mind. Her thoughts flitted one by one across her unguarded face and the doctor noted as each one was examined and digested. Menegilda was an easy one to read. It was just a matter of skill and timing to guide her to the conclusion one wanted her to reach. At the precisely correct moment, he leaned forward.

"How do you think she will handle an addle-brained child?" he asked in his softest, most benevolently saddened tone.

The uneasiness took full hold of Menegilda. She had never considered that her nephew would survive less than whole. The Brandybucks were a generally healthy lot, unlike the highly-strung and excitable Tooks. If something didn't kill them outright, they usually recovered from it. She looked into the Doctor's face, searching for any comfort - but all she saw there was grim sadness, pity and disapproval.

"'Addle-brained'?" she squeaked fearfully.

Clearwater slowly nodded. "Even with a successful surgery, he'll likely never awaken, and if he does I doubt he will have much of a mind left. I have seen a blow that didn't even cause senselessness scramble the brains so badly the victim had the comprehension of a child for the rest of his days." The doctor shook his head sadly. "And young Frodo's injury was far graver than that poor sot's was."

As the implications of the doctor's words sank into her heart, a sob rose to Menegilda lips. She turned away and again buried her face in her handkerchief. Frodo had always been such a clever, quick little thing; a charming scamp with the most deceptively innocent smile. Even at the tender age of eight he understood the power of his astonishingly blue eyes. When he turned them on Menegilda and his lips curved into a mischievous grin, she could deny him nothing. It was an almost physical pain to realize he might never again have the wit to use those wiles. She looked up and, in her despair, lashed out at the only person she could. "Is that why you didn't take the case?" she hiccupped, glaring at the doctor. "Because you were afraid of being blamed for Frodo's… enfeeblement?!"

Clearwater returned her gaze, completely undaunted. "I didn't take the case because the parents didn't want me to…" he answered quietly. "And because I don't think anything Daisy or I could do for the boy would truly help." He sighed with a carefully hopeless weariness. "You may be right; that I didn't want to be seen as the cause of what will undoubtedly be a tragic life. Seems rather selfish, perhaps, but I assure you, it is pity that moves me, not selfishness. If you had my experience, you might also have hoped Daisy's skills would have proven unequal to the task. I don't know. I believe it would have been kinder in the long run, but we shall see. I fear he's going to be a burden on Primula - one that she may be unable to bear." Clearwater paused and favored Menegilda with his wisest, most benevolent look. "It may be admirable to try and save any life you can," he said. "But experience has taught me that sometimes it is best not to deny fate."

Menegilda glanced up the darkened hallway. Pity and anguish welled up in her. It seemed beyond any justice that such tragedy could befall this sweet child and her darling Primula. "But surely," she sniffed. "He will not be so damaged as to be better off dead! I cannot believe that! My dearest lass is excitable, that's the Took in her, I am sure, but she's enough of a Brandybuck to be steadfast through this! I know it!"

The doctor nodded, seeming to take comfort from his patron's assessment. "You know your sister-in-law better than I do. I am afraid my experience has not been favorable in these types of cases. I will bow to your superior familiarity with the parties involved - and hope that Frodo will respond beyond my expectations."

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Primula snuggled close in Drogo's encircling arms. This was the way she had awoken every morning since she was wed; with his strong chest against her cheek and his body's warmth enfolding her like a cocoon. This was where she felt safest - like a little girl cradled and protected by a father's love. But this hobbit was not her father. No indeed. This hobbit could take her to heights her child-self would never have dreamed. She sighed against him sleepily, enjoying his rich, heady scent.

Something was different. Her cheek was lying against a hard brass button that she knew should not be on his nightshirt. As soon as her drowsy brain registered that it was his waistcoat she lay upon, and Menegilda's apartments in which she slept, a full-blown panic gripped her. Drogo was here with her.... That could only mean one thing.

"NO!!!!!" Primula's scream split the previously somnolent air. She arched her back and beat her delicate fists against Drogo's chest. He woke with an undignified snort and it was a moment before he realized the struggling wild thing beating upon his breast was his darling wife. Shaking his head a bit to shift the sleep from it, he captured her hands and rolled up onto his elbows to trap her bucking body beneath him.

"Prim!" he shouted over her screams. "Prim, he's alive! Frodo is alive!"

The scream died on her lips and she stared, astonished, into his face. She was half afraid she had imagined what he had just said.

"He's alive, my love," Drogo repeated, a tender, loving smile gracing his lips. "Daisy says the surgery was a success and she is confident he will live." Drogo released Primula's hands and pulled her now unresisting form close. "Our son will live," he whispered softly into her ear.

Primula gave a little relieved gasp that finally seemed to dispel the tension in her frame and threw her arms around her husband. Her shoulders shook with sobs that were buried into Drogo's shoulder. He also felt tears of gratitude forming at the corners of his eyes. His beloved would be all right as well.

"Oooo! You!" Primula suddenly gave his back an angry thump. For such a slight thing, she had a great deal of strength. The blow hurt.

"Ow!" Drogo leaned back and was greeted by his wife's angry scowl. She looked as furious now as she had relieved a moment ago. "What is it?" he asked, completely bewildered. Primula's eyes narrowed at him and she roughly pushed him away.

"My son is alive and you lay here asleep beside me!?!?" She rolled off the bed and stood beside it for a moment swaying slightly. The doctor's brew had evidently not worn off completely. "What were you thinking?" she scolded. "You should never have left his side!" Finally steadied, she looked about the room as if to find her bearings and headed quickly for the door. Drogo blinked and drew in a deep breath to dispel the last of the sleep from his mind. Despite the abrupt awakening and his wife's ire, he smiled. There was no longer any doubt in his mind Primula would be all right. He heaved himself off the bed and proceeded to follow her as quickly as he was able.

*****************

The darkness was gone. Something had chased it away and everything seemed to make more sense than before. He could feel clarity emerging from the sea of white. What had been confusing before, he now understood, and he knew in time even more would be made clear to him. Maybe, if he was good and waited long enough, he would understand everything?

*****************


Primula was afraid to touch Frodo, but ached to hold her son in her arms all the same.

His face looked so very small peeking out from the white bandages. The purpling bruise over his eye made his whole face as puffy as if a bee had stung him. Below the bruise, the right eye was swollen shut but the left was just open enough that a sliver of brilliant blue peeked out. Primula could see the eye drifting; roving back and forth as she'd often watched it do as Frodo slept. The familiar movement, disquieting as she might once have found it, reassured her.

"He's doing very well," said Daisy. "His breathing's settled down and he moved a bit when I put the smelling salts to him. Those are both good signs. I'm just about to get him up and see if we can get him to take some broth and care for his needs." The healer set a faintly steaming bowl on the nightstand and peered at her charge over Primula's shoulder. Drogo stood at the foot of the bed, watching mother and son with jealous pride. He positively beamed.

"He'll be right as rain, you'll see, Mrs. Burrows!"

Daisy spared him a frown. Drogo either didn't understand or didn't want to understand what she had warned him about after the surgery. Frodo 'right as rain' was hardly what Daisy expected; not now or any time soon. She hoped he would recover, but suspected it would be many months before he was even up and about, let alone 'right as rain'. Though it was hard to deny the family some measure of hope, she had never dealt with an injury as severe as his and did not want to provide any false assurances. Hearing Drogo Baggins make claims she wasn't at all certain would come to pass made her uneasy. Clearwater’s words had shaken her confidence more than she liked to admit.

"Perhaps…" she replied softly. "But much will depend on him... and on you." She fixed Drogo with a meaningful gaze but he, determined to be positive, ignored her. Daisy sighed and turned to Primula who still gazed at her sleeping son with wonder and a bit of trepidation. "We must try and rouse him a bit. He needs water and some victuals and I want to check his responses once again. Could you pick him up so I can arrange some pillows under him? It will be easier to feed him propped up than lying down."

Primula started when she realized the healer was allowing, no asking, her to take Frodo into her arms. She looked into Daisy's face with such a look of pained despair and longing that the other hobbit was taken aback.

"He's all right," whispered Daisy, comprehending her expression with a sudden burst of insight. "You won't hurt him and I think you both need to touch. He needs to know you are really there." 'And you need to reassure yourself that he's really still alive too...' She placed a gentle hand on the other mother's shoulder; encouragement, compassion and empathy nearly bringing tears to her own eyes. "Go ahead."

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The veils of light parted and he saw above him a lovely face lit with the same radiance as the sheets. It was so bright he almost couldn't see her features but the way she moved and the sounds of her voice mingled with the sigh of the resonant wind shook loose a memory. A name came to him. 'Mum'. She would be so proud that he remembered it.

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While Primula slept, Daisy had dressed Frodo in a soft linen nightshirt but fastened it so that his broken arm was uncovered. The limb had been re-splinted and was bound to his body with soft cotton cloth to keep it from moving. Primula was careful to avoid jarring the arm as she leaned over and slipped one hand under her son's warm body. The other she placed under his bandaged head and gently lifted him against her chest as she had when he was an infant. There was a bit more of him now than there had been then. She leaned back and wrapped his gangly legs around her waist. ‘When did he get so big?’ she wondered, her heart wrenching. It seemed only yesterday she was settling him against her breast to feed him; feeling his soft wriggling body grow fat on her milk and watching his sleepy, contented face drift off in her arms. She sighed and laid her cheek gently against his.

He was alive! She could feel his sweet breath, even and steady against her neck. She could smell that unique little boy smell that always transcended even the foulest mess he got into. She could feel his heart beating strong through the hands she spread wonderingly across his small back. She could have wept for joy.

He was a solid child, for all his slimness, and Primula could feel the wiry muscles that lay under the rapidly disappearing baby fat. He would be slight, like she was, like the Tooks, but he was built like Drogo with broad shoulders and long, elegant fingers. A fair prince of a hobbit, as she'd always claimed. Her little prince and he would be well. Drogo had said so. She stroked his cheek gently with her own and whispered softly in his ear. She spoke naught but nonsense words and snatches of little rhymes; things she'd sung to him a thousand times, things she hoped to sing to him a thousand times more. The words fell onto his delicately pointed ear and filtered slowly into his drifting consciousness. Nonsense words they might have been, but on some level Frodo understood. His mum was very proud of him. He would be well and both she and his father would stay by his side and they loved him so very much.

Frodo didn't wake, but after a time began to make small noises in his throat. At first it was a whimper then a sigh. Drogo slid behind Primula on the bed, wrapped one arm around his wife's trembling shoulders and touched the other hand tenderly to his son's bandaged head.

"It's alright, my sweet boy. We are here, and you are getting better. You are safe now." Frodo's face scrunched up and he licked his lips in a slow and methodical gesture that seemed to require all his concentration. He frowned again and his mouth began to form a word.

"Mum?"

It was in the barest whisper and slurred but clear enough to be understood by Primula whose ear was mere inches away from Frodo's mouth and Drogo who sat beaming around proud and happy tears. Daisy started at the sound and looked at the little family in complete shock.

"Did he speak?" the healer asked, incredulous. "Was that a word he just got out?" Primula nodded, tears beginning to flood her own eyes. Daisy gasped, her delight and pride growing into a smile almost as broad as Drogo's. "Oh this is wonderful!" she cried. "I hoped, but didn't expect...." The healer choked back a sob. "Oh, this is so much better than I dared imagine!"

Tears of relieved joy streamed silently down Primula's face. She could have sat with her sweet child in her arms and her beloved husband spooned behind her till the end of her days. She could feel the warmth of both their bodies surrounding her and the feeling filled her with love and fierce hope. Drogo leaned over and kissed his son's head, then he pressed his lips to his wife's flushed cheek. His encircling arm hugged her protectively and he whispered words that only she and their son could hear.

"You are our light and breath, Frodo, my son, and we will always love you. You will be well, I promise it. You will recover and grow big, healthy and strong. You will be the most incredible hobbit this world has ever known... " His voice quavered but steadied again when Primula looked over her shoulder at him. The warmth, pride and love in her eyes filled him with their power. He steeled his voice and pushed through the tightness beginning to bind his throat. "Always remember, boy," he finished, his voice rough with tears. "No matter where your fate leads you, your mother and I will always be with you, come what may."


TBC





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