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Out of All Knowledge  by Budgielover

Chapter Two

Sam stood just inside the door and stared in horror.  Dimly, he felt Bilbo clasp his arm to steady himself, the old hobbit’s moan barely registering.  Tall Elves were rushing to and fro in what seemed to the hobbits to be ordered panic.  The source of their alarm lay motionless on the great bed in the center of the room, almost hidden by slender, graceful forms.

At Bilbo’s quiet moan, the great lord seated at Frodo’s bedside raised his dark head and his deep eyes centered on the old hobbit.  Elrond Half-elven, Master of the Last Homely House, Sam realized.  Right out o’ the storytellers’ talesNever thought I’d live to see the day.  There could be no question of it; the Elf’s noble bearing proclaimed him Lord more than any golden crown ever could.

What he was doing to Frodo remained hidden by the surrounding figures but when he raised his hand, it was red from fingertips to the wrist.  Sam put his palm over his mouth to stifle the shriek that rose in his throat.

“Mithrandir,” said the Elf-lord brusquely.  The next thing Sam was aware of, a great grey robe filled all his vision and huge but gentle hands were guiding he and Bilbo from the room, pulling the door shut behind them.

Gandalf knelt and looked sorrowfully into their faces, then surprised Sam by pulling them both into a hug.  He released Sam and put both of his hands on Bilbo’s shaking shoulders.  “You must be strong, old friend,” the wizard whispered.

The old hobbit looked as if he might faint.  Hurriedly Gandalf reached out a long arm and pulled a chair over, and Sam overcame his shock long enough to guide his old master up into it.  Bilbo’s legs dangled over the edge but some color began to creep back into his lined face.

“Mr. Gandalf, sir…” Sam began, then trailed off.  It was not his place to question the wizard.  To demand why Gandalf had broken faith, why he had not been there to protect Frodo.  Why he had allowed this to happen.  Sam swallowed against a scorchingly dry throat and met the wizard’s eyes.  “Is Mr. Frodo going to die?” he asked, hearing his own flat words as if they came from another.

Gandalf did not answer directly.  He rose stiffly and sought another chair for himself, leaning his staff against the wall.  “Frodo has a very strong will, Sam,“ he said at last.  “He is fighting and he continues to fight.  Elrond is doing all that he can.  Your help is needed, too, both of you, if you can contain your emotions and lend Frodo strength without letting him feel your fear.” 

“Don’t know as I can do that, sir,” Sam whispered, feeling that shaky-sick feeling start up in his stomach again.  Great gulping sobs threatened his hard won self-control.  “Mr. Frodo’s always been able ‘ta see right through me.”

Gandalf’s hand clasped his shoulder gently.  “Right now, he needs to hear a familiar voice, Sam, and to feel the comfort of a steadying touch.  That is more important than any words you might give him.”  The wizard’s sharp eyes peered into the hobbit’s.  “Can you do that, Sam?  Just talk to him, let him know that you are near.  It doesn’t matter what the words are.  Only the tone of a much-loved voice.”

Sam nodded weakly.  Bilbo surprised them both by pushing himself to his feet, though he trembled slightly and had to hold onto the chair-arm for a moment.  “I nursed that boy through sickness and silliness and ridiculous accidents like falling out of the roof-tree at Bag End.  I won’t allow him to die when he’s just started acting like a responsible adult.  Buck up, Samwise.  Gandalf, open that door.”

Gandalf came to his feet and grasped his staff, and Sam was reminded again of just how big the Big People were.  Bilbo marched to the door and stood waiting, his back very straight.  Sam came rather hesitantly to stand behind him.  With a measuring glance at them both, the wizard placed his hand upon the knob and opened it.  But instead of accompanying them, Gandalf said, “I must speak with Aragorn.  Elrond has sent him to fetch certain healing herbs from Rivendell’s stores.  Keep your heads, both of you.”  With that he was gone.

Matters had improved, was Sam’s first impression.  The haste of before had subsided; Elves still moved about the room but with their accustomed measured grace instead of rushing.  The House’s lord sat at the side of the great bed, sponging off Frodo’s chest and wringing the cloth into a basin set on a low stool.  The warm, clean smell of athelas rose from the basin, and Sam sniffed deeply, trying to ignore the color of the water.  The basin’s contents were the color of the fairest of summer roses.

The Elf-lord looked up when they came in and for a moment, it seemed he would forbid them entrance.  He looked hard into their faces, his deep, ageless eyes boring into their grief-clouded ones.  But Bilbo raised his head and met Elrond stare for stare, and Sam fought against his trembling to do the same.  The lord’s beautiful, high-browed features were remote and judging.  Then he nodded to himself, passing judgment upon them.   His decision made, Elrond motioned the two hobbits closer. 

“I could not find it,” he said, and the hobbits were momentarily confused.  “It must be there, somewhere, hidden deep within his body.  That a shard of that evil blade remains in him is the only explanation for this slow fading.”  As he spoke, Elrond accepted a white linen bandage from one of the two Elves that so resembled him and laid it carefully over the wound.  “I reopened it and it bled far more than it should have after a fortnight.  As if the blood vessels had been frayed by something tearing through him, damaging flesh as it moved.  But I could not find it.”

The Elf-lord affixed the linen then rinsed his hands again in a fresh basin held by the other twin.  “Thank you, Elladan.  Would you please instruct the kitchens to prepare a thin broth, meat-based, with a great deal of salt and pureed vegetables?”  Elladan dipped his head gracefully and added the soiled cloth to a great mound of bloodied linen, and to Sam’s relief, carried the bandages from the room.  Now Elrond laid a long-fingered hand against Frodo’s throat and pressed gently just under an ear “It must be got out, if he is to have any chance at all.  But not until he is stronger.  It would surely kill him to endure more cutting now, to find it.”

Elrond rose, and Sam took an involuntary step backwards. The Elf was taller even than Gandalf.  Bilbo shuffled across from the lord and leaned over the supine figure, the great bed’s height and his own stiff joints giving him difficulty.  Frodo lay utterly limp, as if his body no longer contained bones.  His skin was ashen-hued, the blue veins in his face its only color.  “Hullo, Frodo-lad,” Bilbo murmured gently, catching up his nephew’s insensible right hand andstroking it“You certainly took your time getting here.  Almost gave up on you.  Didn’t Sam keep you from stopping to dawdle at every pub and inn?”

“Sir!” Sam protested, ready to expostulate about being chased and hunted, and bogs and briars and biting bugs, and hunger and cold and rain and terror.   Bilbo looked up, a smile lurking in the tired brown eyes.  Sam subsided with a shy, answering grin on his own features.  He had forgotten how the old hobbit loved to tease.  Bilbo reached out and covered Sam’s hand with his own, and Sam knew that his old master understood that he had done the best he could.

Bilbo, with Elrond’s help, eased himself up on the bed and sat up behind the injured hobbit, wiggling so that he was propped up against the carven headboard.  Elrond raised Frodo carefully and laid him in his uncle’s arms.  Bilbo nodded his thanks then wrapped his arms around the motionless form and tucked the dark head under his chin.  Sam watched as the old hobbit’s weary eyes closed and Bilbo started to sing some silly nonsense-song under his breath, holding Frodo close. 

Sam wiped his filthy hands on his breeches as best he could and then drew the coverlet up over them both; white it was with gold tracings of ferns and leaves, beautiful and soft to his hands as elder-down.  He laid his hand upon Frodo’s left, careful not to jostle it.  The white hand, slender and delicate as an Elf’s, was icy cold.  Not just the absence of the body’s heat, but cold in itself.  So cold that Sam’s own calloused hand began to hurt just in touching it.  Suppressing a shudder, Sam withdrew his hand and tugged the coverlet up higher, adjusting the towel-wrapped heated bricks that had been placed against Frodo’s side.

“He’s mighty dirty,” Sam whispered, thinking how mortified Frodo would be if he could hear that observation.  The stark whiteness of his master’s face made the smudges of grime stand out in sharp relief.   “So am I, really,” he conceded, glancing down at the dried mud on the backs of his own hands. It was difficult to ask this intimidating Elf-lord anything, but Sam screwed up his courage and met the lord’s deep eyes.  “Sir, can you give me hot water an’ soap?  I could clean Mr. Frodo up some, anyway.”

Elrond nodded and a raised hand was sufficient to send one of the remaining Elves from the room.  For the first time Sam noticed that people had been gradually filing out, leaving on silent feet, and now only he and Mr. Bilbo and the great lord of legend and one of his sons were left with his master.   “You must be careful not to get soap near the wound,” Elrond cautioned, “nor move him overmuch.  Do you wish one of my folk to assist you?”

Bilbo snorted, more a breathy exhalation that would not disturb Frodo.  “As thin as he is?  The lad hardly weighs a thing.”

Sam was more cautious.  He could feel the trembling in his muscles that heralded true exhaustion.  He’d spent enough back-breaking days in the garden to recognize the feeling and knew how it could affect his judgment and strength.  He couldn’t risk dropping Frodo.  “If you wouldn’t mind, sir,” he said with an apologetic glance at Bilbo.  “Safer now beats sorry after, as they say in the Shire,” he added sorrowfully.

“I will help,” offered the lord’s son, Elrohir.  Sam recalled the name through the haze of childrens’ tales unscrolling in his mind.  Not that he could tell the twins apart actually, but the other, the one who had left to fetch some broth his father had called Elladan.  So this must be Elrohir.  Hah, right brilliant he was.  If he didn’t get a chance to get some sleep soon, he was going to fall on his face and be no good to anyone.

“Thank you, my son,” said the Elf-lord softly, laying his hand once more against Frodo’s brow, then moving down to check the pulse-beat at his throat.  “He sleeps deeply.  I must consult with Gandalf now, and I wish to examine the hilt of the evil knife that did this.”  He gently lifted a blue-tinged eyelid, but the orb remained rolled back and unresponsive.  “He will not wake for some time.  It is best that you rest also, Master Samwise.”

Sam bowed as the lord rose, biting down on his tongue to prevent the escape of useless questions he knew was but begging for reassurances that the great Elf-lord could not give.  Bilbo did not look up at Elrond’s departure, his attention wholly on Frodo’s still face.

So they remained until Elrond’s folk returned with a copper half-bath between them, and many buckets of heated water.  While they prepared the bath, Sam made use of one of the basins for a quick spit-and-polish, washing his face and hands and legs, wishing there was time for a proper cleaning.  What his gaffer would say of his appearance, Sam didn’t dare contemplate.  And what he had let happen to Mr. Frodo, he didn’t think he could ever tell his father.

Elrohir lifted Frodo while Sam and Bilbo undressed him, keeping him covered and warm as much as possible.  Then the two hobbits bathed their injured one, talking softly to him and each other in calm, comfortable voices; Sam recounting news of the Shire and Bilbo speaking about his studies and travels.  Elrohir did not contribute to the conversation, other than to caution Sam again about getting soap too near the bandaged wound.  Through it all, Frodo slept the deep sleep of the totally unconscious.

When his master was washed and clad in a nightshirt (far too large for him), Elrohir collected the bathing supplies and basins and Sam gathered up his master’s things, folding the filthy clothing and laying it neatly aside.  The shirt was ruined, he thought ruefully, knowing he could not get out the set bloodstains.  Frodo had asked and had his shirt changed several times in the first days after the attack but as the wound grew increasingly more painful, Aragorn had decided that it was less agonizing for Frodo to endure a little dirt than the agony of having his arm and shoulder moved to don fresh clothing.  Sam hesitated over the brown jacket, the tiny lump the Ring made in the brown velvet pocket barely discernable.  He looked up to see the young Elf-lord’s eyes upon him.  There was something in the high-browed face that cautioned Sam against asking aloud what he should do with vile thing.  Elrohir shook his head just the smallest amount, his grey eyes traveling to Bilbo.  Sam flushed and swallowed the question in his throat.  Mr. Bilbo was better off not seeing the Ring again; Sam could feel it in his bones.  He laid his master’s mud-caked cloak over the jacket and gingerly pushed the pile under the bed with a toe.  He'd move it later, when Mr. Bilbo wasn't here.

Seeing that the bricks on the hearth were sufficiently warmed, Sam removed several and wrapped them in towels, handing them to the Elf.  Elrohir positioned the bricks carefully along Frodo’s side and against the left arm, making sure that the padding was sufficient to ward off burns.  Sam again placed his hand on Frodo’s left shoulder and his sandy brows knitted in puzzlement.  Despite the bricks’ heat, the cold flesh did not seem to warm.  He couldn’t understand it.  Where was the heat going?

Bilbo had taken Elrond’s seat at the great bed’s side, rubbing aged arms that quivered from exertion.   A soft knock at the door caught his attention.  He turned in the chair to see two curly heads lean in the door, then the smaller leaned too far and lost his balance and landed atop the larger as that one crashed to the floor under him with a muffled, “Uhhh - ooof!”

Sam helped them up.  Merry seemed half in shock.  His eyes had fastened on Bilbo with a look of total disbelief.  Then they suddenly filled with tears and Merry rushed into the old hobbit’s outstretched arms.  Pippin looked confused and uncertain; he had been just a little lad when Bilbo had left the Shire.  Reason, and Merry’s reaction, told him that this could only be one person, but he could not accept it as true.  His memories of his Cousin Bilbo were hazy, based more on the stories he had been told through the years than personal recall.  He edged up shyly next to his sobbing cousin and smiled tremulously at Bilbo.

Unnoticed by all but Sam, Elrohir laid a gentle hand on Bilbo’s shoulder, then let himself out.  “Ah, lads,” Bilbo murmured.  “I’ve missed you so.”  He pushed Merry back a bit and made a great show of studying them both, a small smile tugging at the corners of his old mouth.  “Meriadoc, my boy, you look just like your father.  And Peregrin … little Pippin … you were such a scamp when I left.  Do you still sneak into pantries and beg Merry to teach you how to pilfer from garden patches?”

At this, Merry gave a great sob and fought to control himself.  Sam watched him sympathetically, understanding the shock all too well.  He handed Pippin a discarded length of unused bandage and the youngster pushed it into Merry’s hands, where it was put to unsanitary use as a handkerchief.  Never taking his eyes from the impossibility that was his eldest cousin, Pip whispered, “Merry, shhhh.  It’s all right, Merry.  Hush, it’s all right...”  More mumbled reassurances poured absently from Pippin as he rubbed his cousin’s back and stared at Bilbo.  Bilbo regarded his youngest cousin over Merry’ head, his old eyes filled and brimming in his turn, his mouth quirking between a smile and a sob.  Privately, Sam was relieved to see Mr. Merry let go – he had watched Mr. Frodo’s cousin knot himself up tighter and tighter these last few days, as they drew closer to Rivendell but could not seem to gain the safety of the elven sanctuary.

Merry had grown quieter and grimmer and more desperate, until even Master Pippin’s careful quips could not move him to a smile.  Sam had feared that the young hobbit was blaming himself for not being able to prevent the attack on Weathertop, for being unable to shield his cousin from the Ringwraiths.  Mr. Merry was like that, always taking too much responsibility onto himself, in Sam’s opinion.  It was impossible that one hobbit or even many could have fought off the Black Riders or kept them from Frodo, but guilt and anger and love and desperate fear do not take much stock of logic.

Sam rubbed the back of his head ruefully.  He understood those feelings, as well.  The painful lump had receded as the days passed, but he did not think he would ever forget the helpless sensation of being picked up from the ground and thrown against that rock wall by that Black Rider.  He had been a thing not worthy of their notice, not worth the effort even to kill him.  Tossed aside like a dandelion puff.  Yet he would step forward again, despite his terror, if there were any hope of protecting Frodo for even a few seconds longer and he knew so would Mr. Merry and Master Pippin.

Merry had regained his composure now, scrubbing vigorously at his face with the linen bandage, then laying it aside.  Pippin watched him anxiously, his quick gaze flitting between all of his elder cousins.  Bilbo was a legend brought to life for the tweenager.  Pippin felt shy and very young, and more than a little afraid of ‘Mad Baggins’ the great Adventurer.  Bilbo must have read this in his face, for the old hobbit’s teasing expression softened and without releasing Merry, he wordlessly held out his other arm to his very young cousin.  Pippin came to him hesitantly and allowed himself to be hugged.  “What a fine, strong lad you’ve grown up to be,” murmured Bilbo.  “Just look at you.  Be of age in a few years, won’t you?”  Pippin nodded.  Bilbo laughed and tousled the bronze curls.  “I remember telling your mother quite a few times you’d be a caution when you grew up.  You’re proving me right, my lad.”

Pippin grinned at that; his mother had often repeated that remark to him, usually in tones of shrill exasperation.  Merry choked, caught between a sob and a laugh, scrubbing at his eyes with his coat sleeve.  “I’ll say.  You have no idea what this one’s been up to, Cousin.  The scourge of the Shire, he is.  Why, he’s –“

“Not done anything my helpful older cousin hasn’t taught me,” Pippin broke in, glad of the chance to lighten the heavy emotion of the reunion.  “Pilfering gardens, raiding pantries, drinking at pubs, singing questionable tavern-songs while dancing on tables –“ 

“Yes, well,” Merry interrupted hastily, raising his head from Bilbo’s shoulder.  He grinned through his tears.  “You know the Tooks – they have a natural aptitude for such activities –“

“We do not!” Pippin shot back, relieved that Merry seemed himself again.  “It’s the Brandybucks who -"

“Lads,” Bilbo interjected, a laugh riding his gentle reprimand.  He looked past the two to Sam, who merely shook his head, too wise to involve himself in one of the cousins’ disputes.  Bilbo released both young hobbits with a comforting pat, his eyes again on the cousin who had not joined in the discussion.  

“We came as soon as we could,” Pippin whispered, his eyes now fastened on Frodo’s face.  “We have a room just down the corridor, and Glorfindel arranged a bath for us and some food.  I brought you some, Sam.”

Pippin fished in his pocket and unearthed two apples, a pear, a hunk of cheese and a huge meat roll.  Sam picked off a leaf and a squashed flower and took them gratefully with muttered thanks, sinking to the floor with his back against Frodo’s bed, suddenly reminded of how famished he was.  And how bone-weary.

“How is he?” asked Merry, one hand still clasped in Bilbo’s.

“Doing about as well as can be expected,” the old hobbit replied.  “He’s been treated as much as possible for now and cleaned up, and Elrond wants him to sleep a bit before getting some food into him.  Then…”  Bilbo’s gentle voice faltered.  “Then he’ll try again to find it and remove it.”

“So it is a shard, then?” asked Merry.  He gently freed his hand from Bilbo and ran it along Frodo’s face, tracing the high cheekbones, then lightly tapping a fingertip gently on the tip of the straight nose.  The hoped-for grimace did not come.  Merry sighed and pushed his cousin’s dark hair back from his pale brow.

“Elrond says so,” returned Bilbo in an equally soft voice.  “Stuck in there somewhere, seeking his heart.  If Elrond does not find it very soon…” Bilbo trailed off, his lined face tightening in grief and pain.

Pippin made a soft, choking sound and Merry slid his arm around him.   “Hush, lad,” Merry murmured, unconsciously returning the comfort given him but moments before.  He hugged the tweenager.  “He’ll be all right now.  Cousin Bilbo will see to it.”  Merry shared a wry grin with the old hobbit over the tweenager’s head.  ”Sam,” Merry said still in that quiet voice, “do you have one of those apples left?  It’s been nearly a quarter-hour – I imagine Pip’s hungry again.”   When he did not receive a reply, Merry repeated, “Sam?”  He leaned past Pippin to see Sam sitting fast asleep on the floor, head sunk upon his breast, a meat roll with one bite taken from it dangling limply from his open hand.

* TBC *

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