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Dangerous Folk  by Budgielover

Other than Gandalf, the Fellowship stared at Aragorn in shock. The larger members of the Company stood frozen, grouped in ragged formation around the Ranger and the Ring-bearer. The smaller members reacted first. Sam’s jaw sagged open while. Pippin let out a yip that changed to a sob halfway out, ending in a choke. Still on his knees, Merry shuffled forward, arms encircling the blanket-bound form as if he would physically drag Frodo from Aragorn’s grasp.

“Can’t you do anything?” Sam whispered.

“Use something from Elrond’s medical kits,” Merry grit out over Frodo’s head. “Use whatever you used on me when I was clawed by that goblin scout outside of Hollin.”

“That was only a shallow scratch, Merry,” Aragorn told him, gently pulling Frodo’s silent form back. “This is a small cut, but deep; the spearpoint driven into muscle and tissue. And Frodo has been running and hiding since, causing the poison to travel more quickly through his body.”

Gimli and Legolas exchanged grim looks. Legolas still held an arrow to his bow, his vigilance all the more for their exposed position. How many of the water-goblins had survived they did not know, but they did know that they were still greatly outnumbered. With Legolas listening for danger and Gimli watching the dark for it, it was the best they could do. Trusting to superior Elven hearing and Dwarvish night-sight, Boromir added more wood to the fire, doing what he could to help.

Small hands covered Aragorn’s own, icy cold, and curled around his fingers. Tearing green eyes stared into his. “Do something,” Pippin whispered. “Do something.”

Aragorn stared at them helplessly. Then a wild light came into his eyes. “There is a way… Perhaps his being so very cold will help.”

“Help?” Gandalf prompted, his voice sharp. “Help how?”

“Blood moves through the body more slowly when a person is cold,” Aragorn replied. “He was active and running for only a few minutes, as compared to the time spent in the freezing water and then restrained as a captive.” As he spoke, he shifted Frodo against his chest, freeing a hand to move it over Frodo’s arm and shoulder, pressing here, pinching there, examining the pale skin intently.

“Move back, Pippin. Let me put him down.”

Aragorn leaned forward and started to lay Frodo gently on the ground. Sam caught his master’s feet and straightened Frodo’s legs as Pippin darted around and dropped cross-legged, sliding Frodo’s head into his lap. Frodo’s eyes were shut, his face slack. His eyes did not move under his closed lids. In the darkness, he looked as if he was only very deeply asleep. But no depth of sleep would account for such encompassing relaxation of the limbs–only total and complete unconsciousness. Pippin bowed over him, stroking back his hair and whispering to him.

Aragorn drew his great knife and slid a hand under Frodo, lifting him from Pippin. “What are you going to do with that?” Sam cried, his alarm evident.

“I am going to open the wound–”

“You’re going to cut him? Why?”

Legolas laid a hand on Sam’s shoulder. But his words were addressed to Aragorn. “That is an old wives’ tale. It does not truly help.”

“If there is any chance at all, we must take it.”

“No.” The quiet despair in Gandalf’s voice silenced them. All eyes turned to the wizard. “No, Aragorn. I forbid it. I will not lose you both.”

“Gandalf, I have done this before. I know the workings of it. I do not have any cuts or sores in my mouth. Will you deny Frodo what chance we can give him?”

“If you die of this, Aragorn, then everything we have worked for all these many years will come to naught. There is too much at stake. I will not allow it.”

“If he dies of it, then what we have worked for all these many years will never come to pass. It will truly be for nothing.” Aragorn looked at Pippin, who was watching in bewilderment. “Pippin, hand me Frodo’s braces.”

Rooting in Frodo’s discarded garments, Pippin pulled out the water-stiffened breeches. The tiny specks that had so fouled the water had embedded themselves in the fine velvet and the clothing felt scratchy and rough. Unbuttoning a brace, he handed the length to Aragorn, who stretched it, nodding to himself. Wrapping it around Frodo’s arm just under the shoulder, he pulled it cruelly tight and tied it.

“Let me do it.” Merry’s eyes glittered with determination, the reflection of the fire painting his face with flickering crimson. Sam and Pippin watched helplessly, baffled. “Just tell me what to do. We’re wasting time.”

“No, Merry. I am a healer–I know how and where and how much. I will do it.”

“Please,” Pippin begged, “What are you talking about?”

“I am going to open the wound and suck the poison out,” Aragorn told him. Gandalf shifted, his staff still blazing, but did not object. “The cold will have slowed its progress through Frodo’s body and much of it will still be close to the wound. If I can get enough of it out, Frodo will have a chance.”

“Tourniquet,” Sam said in sudden understanding. “That’s what you wanted his braces for.”

“I will hold him for you.” Gandalf handed his staff to Gimli and lowered himself stiffly to the ground. Holding out his arms, he accepted Frodo’s limp form, sitting the hobbit in his lap as one would a child. Catching Frodo’s bared arm and pulling it out of the blankets, Aragorn ran his blade quickly through the fire. Quickly but with infinite care, he angled the razored point a little before the wound, pushed down, and drew it quickly over the clotted wound and past.

Frodo jerked and a small sound escaped him. His eyelids fluttered. “Frodo?” Merry asked fearfully. But Frodo did not open his eyes or give any sign of awareness. Red began to flow past the crusted blood, which Aragorn cleaned carefully away, then he lowered his mouth to the cut.

Pippin looked away, sickened, but Merry and Sam watched intently as Aragorn held open the wound and encouraged it to bleed. He sucked and spat, sucked and spat, eyes closing in concentration. Red welled from the wound and Aragorn took it and disposed of it on the ground, forcing blood down the arm with the pressure of his hands when no more came readily from the wound.

This went on for what seemed many long minutes, though it could not have been. At last Aragorn signalled with his free hand and Legolas handed him a water bottle. Leaving Gandalf to press a cloth against the wound, Aragorn rinsed his mouth and spat, again and again, careful not to swallow. Another time, Pippin would have laughed to see the faces Aragorn pulled as he sought to clean out every crevice in his mouth.

“It’s not enough,” Gandalf whispered. “His life burns weaker.”

“We’ve got to get more of it out of him.” Pippin blinked; sometime during Aragorn’s effort, Merry had settled himself at Gandalf’s other side. Pippin had not noticed that he had moved. “Let me try.”

“No,” Sam said, overriding him, “Let me. Let me.”

Aragorn shook his head and spat out a final mouthful of water. “The poison has travelled past where I can reach it. Where any of us can reach it.” Aragorn reached over to raise a slack eyelid and peer at the unconscious eye. Frodo did not react at all, and when Aragorn released him, his head sagged forward until Gandalf gently pushed it into a more comfortable position. Aragon pulled up the blankets around Frodo and stared into his face. It seemed to the others that he was willing the hobbit to breathe, willing his heart to beat. Then he leaned back and something changed in his face.


“What?” Merry said in confusion.

“Leeches. Give him to me, Gandalf. The lake-”

“No.” It was Boromir who spoke. “He should not be moved. I’ll get them.”

“They will be near the shore,” Aragorn said briefly. “Under a log or rock, some sheltered place where the water is warmer. Quickly, Boromir.”

Boromir swung around and raced towards the lake. Pippin took a step after him, then with a nod from Merry, followed. Together they splashed into the water, sliding to a halt in the mud.

“Pippin,” Boromir said, “take the shallows. Look for waving forms in the water. I’ll go deeper.”

Pippin flung himself to his knees, water drenching him, and began tearing up rocks from the lakebed. The water looked black in the moonlight, calm as a sheet of ice, and it felt like ice. It seemed far colder than when he had first stood near the shore and passed water-bottles back and forth with Sam and Merry and Frodo. Unbidden, a sob rose in his throat and he choked it down.


“We’ll never find them in the dark,” the young hobbit panted. “It’s imposs–”

A strangled grunt interrupted him. Pippin dropped the water-logged branch he had been examining and looked up. Boromir was standing waist-deep in the water, a knife clamped in one hand as blood dripped profusely from the other. As Pippin watched in horror, Boromir swished the bloody blade in the water and sheathed it, then spread the cut on his hand to force more blood to pour into the water. His face very pale in the moonlight, he submerged his hand completely.


“No! Stay back, Pippin. Do not disturb the water.”

“I”ll help–”

“No need. They’re hungry.”

Boromir shuddered, raising his arm from the water. His hand was black with writhing forms, and more were on his wrist. Pippin pushed his fists against his mouth, nausea rising in his throat. Boromir’s face had gone from pale to grey. “Filthy things,” he murmured faintly. “Pippin, get out of the water. Wait for me on the shore.”

Pippin sloshed up on the bank, trying to keep his movements to a minimum. He stood dripping and shivering as Boromir followed, his leech-encrusted hand wrapped in the hem of his surcoat. Pippin caught his other hand and helped him out, fighting against shying away in revulsion.

Together they stumbled back to the others. Sam met them halfway with blankets. It was small comfort to Pippin that Sam looked scarcely less sick than he when he saw what Boromir had done.

“Well done,” Legolas said softly as they passed. Gimli said nothing but made an affirmative rumble, keeping his eyes away from the fire and Gandalf’s staff, so he would not be light-blinded by them. Boromir nodded shortly, his jaw clenched.

Aragorn seemed to have no such inhibitions. He nodded wordlessly as they drew near, his eyes on Boromir’s hand. Pippin saw that in the bare minutes they had been gone, the Ranger had finished removing Frodo’s water-stiff garments and wrapped him entirely in blankets. He was sitting very close to the fire with Frodo in his arms, turning him one way then the other to warm him.

Gandalf threw a blanket over Boromir’s shoulders, the hobbits being unable to reach so high. Retrieving his staff from Gimli, he followed them back. “Sam, we need more blankets, and one of the medical kits. Bring Bill around the side of the hill and unpack dry clothes for Boromir and Pippin and Frodo.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Here.” Not knowing what else to do, Boromir dropped to his knees and simply held out his hand.

If Aragorn had any reservations about touching the creatures, he did not show it. With Gandalf leaning over him and supplying light more steady than the fire, he looked closely at the twisting creatures and identified the smaller end. One by one, he slid a finger next to the sucker at the other end and pushed the sucker sideways with a fingernail. Once it was loose, he plucked off the smaller end, ignoring the leeches’ attempts to reattach themselves.

“I will wash the bites and apply a salve,” he assured Boromir absently. “Keep the bites clean. They will itch as they heal.” Boromir nodded, the muscles in his jaw jumping.

Baring Frodo’s arm, Aragorn placed each leech he had taken off Boromir just above the extended cut he had made. And another, above that, and another. Pippin realised that he was placing them in a row along the major vessels that carried blood.

“They will feed for perhaps half an hour,” Aragorn continued to them all. “The little they took from Boromir will only have whetted their appetites.” He placed another of the squirming creatures on Frodo’s shoulder, just on the other side of the tourniquet. The ones below it already seemed fatter.

Fascinated and horrified at once, Pippin could not seem to look away. The segmented forms fastened at once and Pippin saw that each creature had a sucking cup on its tail that helped it move and cling. Leeches were far from uncommon in Shire, but few hobbits cared to go swimming and so rarely encountered them. Pippin was an exception, being as fond of swimming as his cousins Merry and Frodo. When Aragorn lifted one to reposition it, Pippin saw the front jaws had made a Y-shaped bite on Frodo’s pale skin. Despite himself, a sound suspiciously like a whimper escaped him.

Aragorn looked up at the sound and Pippin covered his mouth and gulped, ashamed at being caught queasy. But the Ranger’s eyes held only understanding. “They are not pretty,” Aragorn said gently, “but leeches have been used for many ages. Clearing the blood, as we are doing now, is only one of their functions. They can aid in improving the circulation of blood, allowing limbs that might otherwise have been lost to be restored.

“Nor does their bite hurt greatly, for in their saliva is a substance that dulls pain. Oftimes swimmers do not even know they have been bitten, until they emerge from the water and see their passengers. Healers have used them for time out of mind.” Aragorn chuckled, watching as the tiny creatures worked. “Indeed, the word ‘leech’ comes from an old word for physician.

“There are salves and powders in the medicine kit that will help, guarding against infection and aiding in dispelling the poison. Regrettably, Elrond could give us nothing to guard against the effects of freezing water. If Frodo comes out of this with simply a cold, it will be nothing less than a miracle.” He sighed, shifting uncomfortably on the ground. “He would be the better for some food inside of him … something hot. We will rest and eat away from this place, of course. I think none of us want to linger here any longer than we have to.”

Aragorn raised his head and looked into the darkness. “Why hasn’t Sam returned with the pony?”

* TBC *

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