Stories of Arda Home Page
About Us News Resources Login Become a member Help Search

Out of All Knowledge  by Budgielover

Chapter Five

“Take his arm?  No!  No!”  Aragorn found himself staring into furious grey eyes, almost level with his as he was seated.  He was peripherally aware that the younger hobbits had also risen, Pippin struggling to escape Gandalf’s hands around his waist.  Merry had tight hold of the youngster’s arm and Bilbo was speaking to them both urgently in a low voice.  Sam’s fists were bunched and his round face had flushed a deep red.  The enraged hobbit was quivering on his feet, as if he might actually attack the Man.

Samwise found two sets of slender hands on his shoulders and he shook them off, scarcely aware of Elladan and Elrohir.  “How can – How can you say that?” he demanded.  Before Aragorn could respond, Sam half-shouted, “I won’t let you!  Don’t you touch him!”

With a grace and swiftness beyond that of mortals, Elrond was kneeling in front of the shaking hobbit, looking into the livid eyes.  The lord’s sons glanced at each other and quietly returned to their work.  Aragorn gaped at the normally quiet gardener, the virulence of Sam’s defense of Frodo momentarily rendering him speechless.

The Elf-lord forced Sam to look into his eyes by the strength of his will alone.  “Did I not say that if you were permitted to stay, you must do nothing to interfere?” he said calmly.  “Were you to act thus during this proceeding, the consequences could be most grave.  But be at ease about this.  We will not take the arm, young hobbit.  We will not.  We will not.”  Under the Elf-lord’s repeated assurances, Sam’s breathing slowed and steadied and his fists relaxed.  “It would do no good,” Elrond continued, now transferring that deep gaze to his foster son.  “The arm is lifeless, yes, but the wound was given in the shoulder and the infection has spread in both directions.  To take the arm would not help, and it would surely kill him.”

“But what can you do if he’s dying anyway?” Merry said, scrubbing tears out of his eyes as he gently pushed his younger cousin back down.  Bilbo kept his hand on Pippin’s trembling arm, his lined face tight with pain as his old joints protested all this moving about.

“Even if we cannot save his life, he must not die with that evil thing inside of him, Master Meriadoc,” replied Elrond as soothingly as he could.  “He would become like unto those which inflicted the wound.  Then what remained of him would take the Ring to his new master, and all hope for Middle-earth would be ended.”

“Frodo wouldn’t do that!” burst Pippin from the shelter of Gandalf’s lap.

“What Frodo would do or not do does not matter, young Peregrin.”  Elrond regarded the youngest hobbit sorrowfully.  “He would no longer be your Frodo as you know him, and that which he would become would have no choice.  He would be but a lesser shadow under the sway of the greater, and have no will of his own.  With the Ring in its maker’s possession, all the resistance the Free Peoples could summon would avail us naught.”  The lord’s deep eyes returned to the still figure almost lost in the great bed.  “I cannot allow that to happen.  We must remove the shard, no matter the outcome for Frodo.”

Sam nodded, but his face remained taut and still he shook.  But he withdrew and returned to his place beside the wizard.  As he sank down, Gandalf’s gnarled hand rubbed his shoulders.  Merry dropped beside him, quiet and vigilant.  Watching the hobbit reluctantly settle, Aragorn still felt those storm-cloud eyes on him and knew he would not be quickly forgiven for his suggestion.

Elrond rose from his kneeling position and resumed his place seated at Frodo’s bedside.  But his hands remained folded before him and that immortal, considering gaze lingered on the hobbits.  “Young masters, I do not think you quite understand what has happened here. You do not understand why the shard must be withdrawn, no matter the cost.”

“Elrond, don’t.”  This terse statement came from Gandalf, and Pippin twisted around to stare up into the wizard’s face in astonishment.

“Old friend,” said the Elf softly, “they need to understand.”

“Why?” asked Gandalf bluntly.  “It would only give them pain.  Haven’t they endured enough pain?  Do not speak more of this.”

“Of what?”  Merry was standing again – he really must have a chat with his feet one of these days, he thought abstractedly. 

“Yes, of what?” echoed Bilbo, struggling to rise.  Sam immediately got up and caught the old hobbit around the waist, easing him upright.  “Thank you, lad.  Now, Gandalf, you just let me decide what we hobbits should hear or shouldn’t.  Out with it, Elrond.”

Aragorn caught a half-smile tugging at his foster father’s mouth at the old hobbit’s manner.   “As you wish, Bilbo.”  But Elrond’s gaze met Gandalf’s for a moment longer, then the wizard dropped his gaze and his arms tightened around Pippin.

“I said to Glorfindel when he brought Master Frodo in that a Morgul-blade is made to be used on one person and no other,” the lord said, his deep eyes upon them.  “But there is more to it than that.  As I have explained, such a weapon is designed to wound its victim and drag him down into an eternity of darkness and slavery.”  For a moment the lord paused, almost regretting his decision to tell them.  The four hobbits were staring at him with every iota of their full attention, fear and apprehension and weariness struggling on their small faces.  “But there is more to it than that, also.

“Have you given thought to how Frodo was attacked?” Elrond asked gently.

“They came upon us on Weathertop,” Merry replied hesitantly.  “Strider – Aragorn – told us to catch up burning brands and form a circle.  We –“

“Yes,” Elrond interrupted quietly.  “I should have said, rather, how Frodo was wounded.”

The hobbits looked at each other in confusion.  “Out with it, Elrond,” Bilbo repeated in an exasperated tone that sparked a hint of smiles in the lord’s sons.

“Frodo attacked the Ringwraith that came for him,” Elrond continued.  “Estel tells me he threw himself down and sought to stab the feet of his enemy.  A valiant attempt, but ultimately hopeless.  The Nazgûl drove the knife that had been prepared for it through Frodo’s shoulder.”

Four curly heads; grey, bright blond, sandy-blond and bronze nodded uncertainly. They knew this – why was the Master of Rivendell repeating what they knew and would suffer again and again in their nightmares?  Sam shuddered.  Never would he forget the scream that had been torn from Frodo’s throat as the knife stabbed home. 

Seeing that they did not understand, Elrond elaborated.  “Through the shoulder, only.  Frodo was upon the ground and helpless.  He could not have escaped.  The shoulder is but inches from the heart.  Why not drive the knife through his heart?  Why did not the Wraith simply kill him then and take the Ring?”  The hobbits looked at him blankly, confused and apprehensive.

“Because its master wanted Frodo to suffer,” Elrond continued softly.  “Sauron wanted Frodo to know that a splinter of the Morgul-blade was left in him, wanted him to feel it inching towards his heart.  Every agonizing centimeter.  He wanted you who love him to watch Frodo die in agony.  He wanted those who sought to help to know that they were helpless.  He wanted to begin his rule of Middle-earth with pain and regret and lost hopes, and the slow, agonizing death of the one who had kept his Ring all these years, secret and safe and hidden from him.”

In the absolute silence that followed, Elrond saw his sorrow reflected in the wizard’s bowed head and slumped shoulders.  “So,” he continued quietly, “you see why Frodo must not die with that evil inside him, for his wraith would rise up from death and take the Ring to Sauron.  Everything that Frodo and all of you have suffered and striven for these last terrible days would be for nothing.”  Elrond watched this knowledge sink in sadly, and it pained him to bring such grief to them.  “Your friend and kinsman held off the dark longer than many great warriors of Elf or Man or any of the Free Peoples could have.  That he lived to gain sanctuary here is beyond all hope, due entirely to his own strength of will and the aid and care and love of his companions.”  The Elf-lord said no more, giving them time to absorb this as preparations for the operation were completed.

Elladan had arranged the surgery utensils and now Elrohir washed the uncovered area of Frodo’s shoulder and chest with a greenish, pungent liquid of some kind.  It crinkled the inside of the hobbits’ noses.  Pippin put his hand over his mouth and nose and sneezed, then pressed back against Gandalf when Elrond gave him a disapproving look.

“Ready, Elrond.”  Aragorn placed a pillow under Frodo’s left arm, raising it slightly higher than the hobbit’s body.  He stepped back to allow the Elf-lord to move closer, and his foster brothers took up positions on either end of the bed, one placing slender hands on Frodo’s shoulders and the other pressing down his ankles. 

Elrond sank into the chair at Frodo’s bedside, his eyes never leaving the pale, still face.  From the floor in the corner, five faces stared intently at the bed. Silently, Aragorn handed Elrond the knife.  The Elf-lord accepted the knife but it remained loose and lax in his hand.  His gaze lifted from Frodo’s still face to meet those of his sons.  “We need one more,” he murmured, “to monitor his pulse during the surgery.  Estel, my son, will you ask Arwen back?”

“I’ll do it.”  Merry’s voice was crisp, with no trace of weariness or self-doubt in it.  The hobbit stood, aware of Pippin’s suddenly frightened gaze.  “Don’t worry, Pippin-lad.  You stay with Gandalf and Sam and Bilbo.”  Merry walked to the high bed and stood across from Elrond and Aragorn, resting his hands on the edge of the soft mattress.   “What do I do?”

The Elf-lord was quiet, considering the halfling’s youth and the stress that seeing his cousin cut would place upon him.  Then he looked into Merry’s steady blue eyes and nodded to himself.  “Stand there,” Elrond directed, and Merry moved up alongside Frodo’s head.  “Place your fingers upon the great artery of his throat.”  This Merry did.  “Do you feel the pulse of his life there?”  Merry nodded, face creased with concentration.  “You must tell me immediately if you feel any change in that pulse, any sudden weakening or racing of the beat.  You may count the beats under your breath, if you wish.”  Merry nodded again, his white face set, eyes drifting closed to shut out every other awareness but that fragile, faltering rhythm.

Pippin put his hands on the Gandalf’s knees and strained up to see better, without abandoning the security of the wizard’s lap.  Gandalf gently pushed him back down.  “Sit still, Pippin,” he said.  The old Istari exchanged a glance with Bilbo, wondering if the hobbits realized that Elrond had placed them on the floor to spare them the sight of what was being done to Frodo.   From this low vantage, they would not be able to see the knives and the blood but could be at Frodo’s side in an instant if … if it was necessary.

Elrond waited until Merry was secure in his counting, his fingers steady on his cousin’s throat.  Then his gaze traveled to each of his helpers and received a nod from each.  Elladan and Elrohir nodded as one, their hands firm on the hobbit’s shoulders and his ankles.  Aragorn nodded also, his hand hovering over the tray of knives and utensils, contained and ready.  “Very good,” the Elf-lord said softly.  “Let us begin.”

“Will you cut further?” asked Gandalf from his place on the floor.

His eyes on the uncovered wound, Elrond was silent for long moments.  Then he replied slowly, “I hope to avoid it.  If I can find the shard without damaging him more…”  As he spoke, he gently laid the razor-sharp scalpel against the ugly, crusted gash on the pale shoulder and pressed with no more weight than the weight of a butterfly’s wing.  The knife sliced cleanly through the brown scab of dried blood and fresh red welled over it.  His eyes on the wound, Elrond held up the knife and Aragorn reached over his shoulder and took it, dropping it with a clang into a container at his side. 

Elrond inhaled deeply then crooked his long fingers and slid the first two gently into the opening he had made.  Gently, so carefully, he probed with those sensitive digits, seeking coldness, hardness, seeking the evil he could sense emanating from the halfling’s body.  The flesh felt unnaturally cold, the mortal clay already stiffening through life still coursed through the small body.  Elrond searched in such a manner for as far as his long fingers could reach, then withdrew them and sighed.

“It is no good,” he said heavily.  At this, Merry’s eyes opened and he gulped at the sight of those dripping fingers.  Droplets of blood coursed sluggishly along Elrond’s fingers and hovered on his fingertips, before falling to splatter on Frodo’s chest in little droplets of ruby.  Poppies in a field of snow came to Merry’s mind from somewhere.  Hurriedly he shut his eyes again and concentrated on the thready pulse under his fingers.  His other hand crept up to place itself against Frodo’s ribs, treasuring each shallow expansion of his chest.

“It has moved from the point of penetration,” Elrond continued, frowning.  His hand skated above the pallid skin, palm open, leaving a trail of more ruby drops.

“You will cut again.”  This from Gandalf, and it was not a question.  Beside him, Sam bit his tongue on a protest.

“I must.  There is no help for it.”  Elrond carefully rinsed both hands in a basin Aragorn held for him, then accepted a white cloth to dry them.  He painted another line of the greenish, pungent liquid on the pale chest then with a fresh knife in his hand, leaned over the still torso and placed the point at where his fingers could reach no farther without tearing soft tissue.  The knife sank into the alabaster flesh easily, and more blood rose to the surface.  Elrond ignored it, concentrating on drawing the knife towards the center of Frodo’s body in a fine slice. 

“Father,” said Elladan.  The Elf’s voice was calm but Merry’s eyes snapped open in alarm.  Elladan’s face was serene and his hold on Frodo’s shoulders did not slacken but Elrond immediately ceased cutting and pressed a cloth to stem the rivulets of red.  

Then Merry felt it, a skip in the count, a pulse, then a longer skip.  “Sir –“

“Quiet!” hissed Elrond, his long arm reaching over Frodo’s body to brush Merry’s hand aside.  The Elf-lord laid his hand on Frodo’s throat and closed his eyes, the other pressing the cloth tightly.  For long moments he was still, then those silver eyes opened and he looked at Elladan.  “We will continue.”

Both younger Elves nodded, and Aragorn and Merry more slowly.  As Elrond withdrew, Merry returned to his place.  Elrond’s hand had left blood on Frodo’s neck, red smears on the white column of his throat.  Merry wanted desperately to wipe them away.  He wanted them to go away.  He wanted them never to have been.  He wanted to weep.  Instead he laid gentle fingers on the bloodied skin and closed his eyes to count.

Again Elrond slid his hand into the slice, the skin lifting and stretching with the insertion of his long fingers.  Again the almost infinitesimal movement of the hand at the wrist as the Elf searched.  Despite his care, more blood welled from the incision and ran over the pale skin, pooling in the hollow of Frodo’s shoulder, then running down to stain the white linen on which he lay. 

Time passed while Elrond searched, deeper and deeper.  The strain began to show on the elegant face; Elrond’s lips tightened and his high forehead furrowed.  Aragorn leaned forward to blot droplets of perspiration from his brow.  Elrond did not notice, so focused was his concentration.   “So small…” he murmured, perhaps unaware that he was speaking aloud.  “These folk are so small.  It must be very close to the heart.  Only a splinter, yes, but I should be able to find it…”

This time Merry caught it first.  “Elrond!” he cried, the shrillness of his own voice frightening him.  Elladan seconded him a heartbeat later, “Father!”  From the corner, two cries echoed theirs, hushed a moment later by soft murmurs from Gandalf and Bilbo.

Elrond’s eyes narrowed and he laid his free hand over Frodo’s heart.  For the first time, Frodo moved.  His face twisted in pain and his eyes fluttered half-open but there was no sight of the brilliant morning glory irises.  Abruptly he gasped, his entire body shuddering.  Then Merry felt the irregular pulse stop completely, and he cried out in wordless grief and terror.

* TBC *

<< Back

Next >>

Leave Review
Home     Search     Chapter List