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ON AMON SŰL
Frodo huddled in on himself in agony--Fool! Fool! He called himself over and over. Why had he put on the Ring?
He lay in a haze, a fog of waking nightmare. His shoulder throbbing to the rapid beat of his heart. The voices of the others seemed like distant echoes, far away--too far away to reach him. But the pale king who had struck him seemed to have somehow remained--he could not see him, but he sensed his presence--he was here yet, he must be--"Where is the pale king?" he shouted wildly. His own voice seemed distant--as though he shouted into a void.
“They’re gone, Mr. Frodo. Strider chased them off with fire.”
“Frodo, here, let’s get you warm. Your hand is like ice.”
“Merry, is he going to die?”
That had sounded like Pippin, but his voice, so desolate and forlorn--he’d never heard Pippin sound so sad and frightened. Why would Pippin be sad? Who was dying? Was it someone he knew?
Hands, warm hands on him. Merry’s hands, chafing his left arm, trying to lend some of his own warmth to it--it felt so cold. Sam’s hands, sturdy and strong, pulling him up, tucking blankets around him. Pippin’s hand, clasping his own right hand for dear life, though Frodo still clutched the Ring tightly.
“Frodo, my dear, you should put that thing away. Here,” Pippin guided Frodo's fist to his pocket, and stroked it gently until he let It go there. Now Pippin drew Frodo's hand back out of the pocket, and held it once more, entwining his fingers with Frodo's.
“That Strider’s been gone an awful long time, Mr. Merry...”
“I know, Sam. I hope those things don’t come back; I hope he doesn’t meet them again, alone in the dark. We'd be of no use against them.”
“Seems a bit odd, to me, him just waving a bit of fire at 'em and chasing ‘em off.
"Strider's all right, Sam, you can trust him."
"I don't know how you can be so sure, Mr. Pippin…
Their voices were so very far away, but their hands were warm. Suddenly, Frodo felt a spasm of pain shudder through him.
"Frodo! Stay with us!"
That was Merry. Merry's hand touched his cheek.
Frodo felt something small and warm and wet touch his cheek: a tear. Merry was weeping, but he could not summon the strength to lift a hand in comfort--if indeed there were any comfort left in him. Cold, so very cold.
The voices of his friends were murmuring again, this time so far away and distant that he could not understand what they were saying. But they had moved in close to him--he could feel the warmth of their bodies, as they placed him between them. The rest of him began to feel a bit less frozen, but his left arm remained icy and useless. He slipped away into a spiral of evil and half-finished dreams, the voice of the Ring pursuing him, and drowning all else out.
*I’ll have them as well soon enough. You will all be mine.*
That roused him more than anything yet had. *Never!* he thought fiercely. *Never! Leave them alone!* He could feel It subside, yet It seemed to be laughing at him. How could he protect them, when he could not protect himself?
*No! No, never!* he repeated fiercely in his mind, over and over. He knew then. He could not succumb, he could not give in, not if he wished to protect Merry, Pippin and Sam. If he gave in, even for an instant, It would be at them. With determination he set his will against It, and the evil voice subsided once more--not ceasing, but closed away within a wall of his making. He knew he had only muffled It, not subdued It. And for how long?
Frodo had no sense of time, yet at some point, he became aware that Strider had returned. They had all jumped up, and Sam had drawn his sword. Frodo could see again, though dimly, and the voices were not so distant--they sounded almost normal.
"I am not a Black Rider, Sam, nor in league with them…" The Ranger went on to explain what he had been doing, and then stooped down to examine Frodo's wound.
Though he probed as gently as he might, Frodo could not suppress a gasp of agony as his wound was prodded.
"What happened, Frodo?"
Frodo was not certain his voice would work, but he took a difficult breath, and tried to explain what had happened. "I do not know why I put the Ring on--I could not seem to help it somehow. I am sorry…" His whisper faded away; it was too much effort to breathe and to speak at the same time.
Strider shook his head and sighed. "There are those wiser and more wary than you, Frodo Baggins, who have been caught in the Ringwraiths' snares. They are terrible." He turned away. "Merry! Pippin!"
"Yes, Strider?" Merry asked.
"I need some hot water, as much as you can get for me. Do not boil it--heat it just until it begins to steam!"
Frodo's cousins darted away, to find all the small pots and kettles among their supplies "Strider, is there a nearby stream where we can replenish the water?" Merry called.
The Ranger shook his head. "Not easily--I do not want you to go far from this place yet. Use what we have with us. Once we have left here, there is a stream about a mile away. We will get more water then."
Strider put a large warm hand on Frodo's brow, and sang softly for a few moments. Frodo felt somewhat better as the Man did so, though he still felt the icy cold of his arm and shoulder.
The Ranger stood up. "Sam," he said, "come with me."
Sam had been solicitously kneeling by Frodo's side. He got up and walked reluctantly away. But they did not go far. Frodo saw the Man whispering to Sam, and he heard Sam's gasp. After a moment, Strider turned and hurried off. Sam drew his small sword and came to sit once more at Frodo's side.
There were tears on Sam's face.
Frodo once more fell into dreaming. He was aware of his friends' ministrations--he could feel them next to him, trying to keep him warm, bathing his wound in warm water--each time, it would feel good, and bring just an instant of relief from the pain and cold. But each time the respite was briefer.
They took it in turns to hold him between them, while one or the other would draw out his sword and watch.
Once he was aware that Merry was talking to him, as he lay with his head in Merry's lap, reminding him of something they had done together as children, but he could not hold on to the sense of the words long enough to be able to respond. He clung instead to the love in Merry's tone, knowing how painful it must be for his cousin to see him laid so low, Merry who had always been his fiercest defender.
And at one point, he could hear Pippin's sweet voice, singing softly, he knew not what song, as his younger cousin smoothed the curls from his brow. Pippin's voice briefly brought him a memory of sunshine and summer days, before it slid away once more in the cold distance.
And Sam, when he was not guarding, was simply holding Frodo's good hand in his own warm and sturdy one. Frodo could feel the calluses and Sam's strong blunt fingers gripping him tightly. He could remember that sturdy brown hand when it was smaller, though he thought it perhaps had always been calloused. It lent him strength to fight the darkness.
At some point, he must have slept, for he came to himself with the feeling of time passed. He could not tell yet if it was morning: the light, for all he could tell, was grey and dim. He could hear Strider speaking to the others.
"…more deadly to Frodo was this!"
Frodo heard the others hissing in alarm, and then he heard Pippin give a whimper of fear.
"Alas, it was this accursed knife that gave the wound. Few now have the skill in healing to match such evil weapons. But I will do what I can.":
He saw Strider come and sit upon the ground by him, and heard him sing softly in Sindarin, though he could not catch the words. Then he bent over Frodo's face and spoke even more softly. It was not Sindarin, but Quenyan, and Frodo was not fluent enough in that language to catch the meaning. Yet a sense of peace and warmth began to well up in him, combating the horrible iciness within.
Strider took out some leaves, and explained where he had come by them, and their virtue of healing. Athelas. Even the name of it was soothing, and the scent of it brought memories of summer days in the Shire, new cut grass and roses and lilacs in bloom in Bag End's gardens, and then a further, fainter unfamiliar scent with a tang of salt and a crisp breeze…
As Strider laved the wound, Frodo felt the pain and also the sense of frozen cold lessen in his side; but the life did not return to his arm, and he could not raise or use his hand. What at fool he felt, as he realized that he had given in to the command of the Enemy in putting on the Ring. He had endangered them all. How in the world could they continue now when he could not even summon enough strength to stand?
The voices of the others had grown faint and distant again.
"I think now that the enemy has been watching the place for some days. If Gandalf ever came here, then he must have been forced to ride away, and he will not return. In any case we are in great peril here after dark, since the attack of last night, and we can hardly met greater danger wherever we go."
"I think you are right, Strider. But Frodo can't stand, much less walk. Do you think he would be able to ride Bill if one of us guided the pony?"
"I think that would be the best thing, Merry; though I hope the pony is up to the exertion."
"What do you think, Sam? Can Bill manage Frodo?"
"Of course he can, Mr. Merry! He's a good fellow, and he's feeling better since we left Bree."
"Well, he'll manage better if we take some more of his load. I can carry a good deal more if I have to!"
"Well said, Mr. Pippin. So can I."
"We all can. Pippin, you keep Frodo warm. Sam, if you'd mind getting a bit of breakfast together for us, Strider and I will see to dividing up the supplies."
All Frodo could manage to get down was some tea. Pippin supported him around the shoulders, holding him up with one arm and holding the cup with his other hand, while Frodo sipped. His younger cousin tried to feed him a bit of journeybread dipped in the tea to soften it, but it was just too exhausting to even try and chew.
"Thank you, Pip," he whispered.
"It's all right, Frodo. You've done as much or more for me when I was little. Do you remember…"
Pippin's voice faded away, and Frodo heard the Ring. *You won't last long. Soon you'll be in my Master's realm, and these others will be mine.*
"NO!" He had not meant to speak aloud, but the Ring backed away, and Frodo slammed the walls down once more.
Pippin jerked, taken aback. "I'm sorry, Frodo dear, you don't have to try and eat anymore if you don't wish it."
Frodo felt his cousin gently lower him down again, and curl around him protectively, putting one arm over Frodo's own cold one, and rubbing it gently. Frodo dozed again briefly, but it seemed all too soon he was being awakened again.
It was Strider. "Frodo, I am sorry to disturb you, but I am going to put you on the pony now. Do you think you will be able to hold on?"
Frodo nodded, and tensed. But even though he tried to steel himself, he could not bite back a cry of anguish as Strider's long arms gently lifted him, and he felt himself deposited atop the hapless pony.
"Sam, can you lead Bill? I need to keep my hands unencumbered in case we encounter foes."
They moved forward with a painful lurch. Frodo fought down his nausea, gritted his teeth against the pain, and concentrated on the feel of his cousins' hands. Merry had one hand over his own, helping him to hold onto Bill's mane. On his other side, Pippin walked along with one hand on Frodo's knee, helping to steady him.
He could feel the Ring pushing against the wall he had made, and he pushed back. He would not let It win; he would not let It defile those who loved him, who even now were lending him all their own strength and comfort.
He would not give in.
On they plodded, leaving Amon Sűl at their backs.
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