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Keep Him Secret, Keep Him Safe  by shirebound

Note:  There is a folk remedy about adding lemon juice to a weak solution of black tea to ease hangovers.

Keep Him Secret, Keep Him Safe

Chapter Eleven:  The Hands of the King

Then Aragorn laid his hand on Merry’s head, and passing his hand gently through the brown curls, he touched the eyelids, and called him by name.  And when the fragrance of athelas stole through the room, like the scent of orchards, and of heather in the sunshine full of bees, suddenly Merry awoke.  ‘The Houses of Healing’, The Return of the King

Before Éomer returned to camp, he thought to gather up the hobbits’ cloaks and bring them out to the lamp-lit glade where they were bathing.  There was a great deal of splashing and singing coming from the tub, and he set the cloaks out of reach of the water, next to the towels and heaps of clothing.

“I have brought your cloaks,” Éomer called out.  Four curly heads turned to look at him.  “The air is chill, and you will be glad of them.”

“Thank you!” Frodo called out.

“That was very--”  The rest of Pippin’s words were lost in a yelp, as the soap bar slipped out of his hands and Merry lunged for it.  There was another tremendous splash, and Éomer stepped even further back.

“Got it!” Merry’s voice was triumphant.  “Thank you, sir!  See you tomorrow.”

Éomer smiled and left.

“Nothing like a hot soak for what ails you,” Sam said, holding one foot up out of the water to scrub between his toes with a cloth.  “Are you feeling less sore, Mr. Frodo?”

“Much less, Sam.  This is just what I needed,” Frodo replied.  His hair, after many dunkings, splashings, and a good wash, hung damply about his face.  “I might just stay in this tub for a week or so.”

“You’ll be all squinched like a prune if you do,” Pippin said.

“Mmmm,” Frodo murmured.  He felt dizzied from the heat (not to mention many mugs of ale), and his thoughts began drifting from one thing to another. He remembered the hot pools of Lórien and Rivendell, and wondered what Bilbo might be up to, and if Aragorn was all right...

He was startled by a gentle nudge, and opened his eyes to find his head resting on Sam’s shoulder.

“You’re nearly asleep,” Merry said.  “Time for bed.”

“I’m still not sure I trust those stacked beds,” Pippin announced.  He shook water out of his curls, then climbed carefully out of the tub and down to the ground.

“Gimli trusts the beds, and I trust Gimli,” Frodo said firmly.  He was so relaxed, Sam and Merry had to help him onto solid ground.  The four hobbits, shivering in the cool evening air, quickly dried off and rubbed the towels through their hair.  After pulling on their clothing and gratefully wrapping the cloaks about themselves, they used the basin to pour water on what was left of the fire.  At the last moment, Pippin remembered to retrieve the precious cake of soap from the tub, and he put it inside the emptied basin.  Once the lamps had been extinguished, they all made their way, stumbling and laughing, back to the tent.  As Gimli had promised, all the dishes and pots had been cleaned and stacked, and the hearth-fire was gently glowing.  The tent was empty now save for Gandalf, puffing on his pipe, and Aragorn.

“I see you enjoyed your bath,” the wizard chuckled.  Tipsy hobbits were a sight not unknown to him.  “There’s hot water for tea, and I suggest you have some.”

“Did Aragorn wake up?” Frodo asked.

“No,” Gandalf said.  “He’s been sleeping soundly, as I hope the four of you soon will be.”  He got to his feet. “Good night, one and all, and if you need anything, you know where to find us.”

“Don’t worry, Gandalf,” Pippin said.  “We can handle things; that is, unless these beds collapse, or Frodo’s drunken snores wake up Strider.”

“I do not snore, Peregrin,” Frodo declared, weaving slightly, “and I’m certainly not drunk.  You must be confusing me with a certain Brandybuck cousin.”

“You had more ale than any of us, Frodo,” Merry said, and Sam nodded.  “Pip, Sam, and I were too busy singing and talking to get our share.”

“I couldn’t have been that far ahead of you.”

“Yes, you were.”

“No, I--”

“Here, sir.”  Sam handed a steaming mug to Frodo.  He guided his master to a chair before squeezing one of the leftover lemon slices into his own mug.  He took an experimental sip and smiled broadly.

“You were right, Mr. Frodo!  This tastes just fine in tea.”

“I never said it would taste fine!” Frodo protested.  “You should see your face when you eat those vile things, Sam.  It gets all squinched up, like Pippin says.”

The hot tea helped clear his head slightly, and Frodo remembered to check that there was fresh water on the table next to Aragorn’s bed before changing into one of the nightshirts Merry had brought from the City.  At last, he sank gratefully into the bed he and Sam would share. Merry and Pippin took a last look around outside, while Sam added a few small logs to the fire and checked through their supplies. Finally, when the lamps and candles were extinguished, and the only light came from the softly-glowing hearth and the jewelled sheath of Andúril that reflected it, Merry and Pippin climbed up to the top bed and Sam lay down next to Frodo.

As groggy as he was, Frodo found that he couldn’t stop thinking about Aragorn.

“Sam,” he asked, “what’s the last thing you remember before you woke up?”

“This morning, sir?”

“No, I mean here, at the beech grove.”

Sam took a deep breath.  “I remember holding your hand tight, trying to... to stop your finger from bleeding,” he said, unconsciously reaching out for Frodo’s right hand.  “I heard you coughing a lot, and it was so hot... there was a big shadow, and something grabbed me.  I don’t remember anything else until I woke up, and Gandalf was there, and you woke up after that.”

“Do you remember... seeing Aragorn?  Or hearing him?”

Sam frowned.  “Now that you mention it, I might’ve dreamed about him, but I’m not sure.  He... someone was calling out to me.  It sounded like Strider, but didn’t look like him.  Or maybe he did, at that...”

“I dreamed about him, too.  At least, I thought it was a dream.”

“Wasn’t it?”

“I’m not sure anymore.”  Frodo yawned, and closed his eyes.

Pippin waited until the quiet breathing from the bed beneath him told that Frodo and Sam had fallen asleep before turning to Merry, whom he knew was also awake.

“Did you hear what they said?” Pippin whispered insistently.  “I think Strider called them back the same way he did for you and Faramir, and Lady Éowyn.”  He tried to make out his cousin’s face in the darkness.  “Did you dream about him?  When you were hurt?”

“Not that I remember,” Merry whispered back.  “There was just a cold nothingness until...”

“Until what?” Pippin asked curiously.

“I smelled fresh grass, and spring flowers, and wasn’t cold anymore.  I thought I was back in the Shire.”

“We soon will be.  Can you believe the war is over, and we’re all right?” Pippin lay quietly for several seconds.  “Do you think Strider will have a crown to wear?  Whatever was Gimli singing about?  Did you notice if there was any ale left?  Maybe we should pass through Rohan on the way home, if everyone--”

“Go to sleep, Pip,” Merry sighed, turning over.

Pippin breathed a sigh of relief.  He’d rather Merry fall asleep thinking about his silly questions than the cold and dark of his wounding.  He shifted slightly so he could peer down at Frodo and Sam sleeping peacefully below him, their hands still clasped together.  Then he stayed absolutely still, listening carefully, until his sharp ears picked up Aragorn’s deep and even breathing along with the only other sounds -- a symphony of crickets, and the gentle splash of water from the nearby stream.  Finally he relaxed, burrowing tightly against Merry.  He didn’t like sleeping up this high, but the only other choice was curling up in a bedroll on the ground, and he’d had quite enough of that for awhile.  His thoughts drifted to the flets of Lórien, and before he knew it, his dreams were filled with a gentle light, and the Lady... smiling at him.


Frodo awoke to a pounding headache.

“... an awful lot to drink last night.  It was a grand party, though, sir, sorry you missed some of it.”  Sam’s voice.  I didn’t have that much to drink, Frodo thought crossly.  Eyes tightly closed, he groped around for something to block out the insistent sunlight and enthusiastic birds, and his hand fell on Sam’s pillow.  He pulled it over his head.

“So am I.  Ah, I believe Frodo might be awake.”  Is that Aragorn?  Why is he out of bed?

“I’ve got tea ready.  Too bad he won't try lemon in it; my head feels a lot better.  It might be just the thing for what ails him.”

“Don’t you mean what ‘ales’ him?  Get it?”  Pippin.  That’s such an old joke.  Frodo started to giggle, but it ended as a moan.  He felt the bed sag as someone much heavier than a hobbit sat upon it.  Cautiously lowering the pillow, he opened his eyes and was startled to see Aragorn smiling at him.

“Good morning.”  Aragorn touched his brow with a large, warm hand, and pressed gently.

“No!” Frodo cried out in a sudden panic.  He pulled away, and tried to scramble to the other edge of the bed.   “Don’t… I mean, you don’t have to… I’m all right.”  Frodo grasped his head in both hands.  “Just a headache.  You should be in bed.  I need to… excuse me.”  He scrambled off the bed and ran outside to the privy.  When he returned, pale and a bit shaky, Aragorn was still on his bed, and motioned the hobbit to his side.

“Sit beside me, Frodo,” Aragorn said softly but insistently, and Frodo hesitantly joined him.  “It is time you told me what is troubling you… besides your headache.”

Frodo’s eyes filled with tears.  “I don’t want you to get sick again,” he whispered.

“Easing a headache, if I can, will not harm me,” Aragorn said.  “We need to talk about this, as soon as you’ve had your breakfast.”

“No food,” Frodo groaned.

“Tea, sir?” Sam ventured.

“I’ll try.  Where’s Merry?”

“He’s gone with King Éomer,” Pippin told him, straightening his sable and silver tunic.  “Look after him, Sam; his hair looks like a bird's nest.  I’ll be just outside.”  He bowed to Aragorn, cast a worried look at Frodo, then left the tent.

“He likes guarding you, Strider,” Sam said, bringing Frodo a cup of tea.

“It is taking some getting used to,” Aragorn admitted.  “For many years, I have been the one doing the guarding.”

“Do you mean the Shire, sir?”

“I do.”

"Thank you, Sam," Frodo said.  He looked up at Aragorn.  “Should you be up?”

“I am not overdoing it,” Aragorn assured him.  “The dizziness is nearly gone, and I have been walking about on my own.  Not too far, yet, or my brothers will skin me alive.”

“I’m so glad you’re better,” Frodo said.  “I was frightened for you.”

“I know,” Aragorn said gently.

“Will you be leaving soon?”

“Tomorrow,” Aragorn said.  “My brothers insist that I rest for one more day, away from the clamor of camp, and I sense they are correct.  There is much you and I need to discuss first, and something I wish to share with you.”  He motioned to the table, and a plate covered with a damp cloth.  “Elladan was here earlier, with a plant I asked him and Elrohir to locate.”

“What is it?”

Athelas.  Do you remember it?”

“Of course I do; I don’t need it now, though.” Frodo frowned.  “Do I?”

“It could very well be what we both need,” Aragorn chuckled.  He raised his hand again.  “Now, do you trust me?”

“I've always trusted you, from the first day we met,” Frodo said earnestly.  “It's just that... I know you nearly died, healing Sam and me.”

“He did?” Sam asked, eyes widening with shock.  Frodo nodded.

“That very subject is what we need to talk about,” Aragorn said.  “But that was a unique situation, Frodo.”

Frodo’s eyes suddenly sparkled with curiosity.  “I’d really love to know how you did it.”

“I do not completely understand it myself,” Aragorn smiled, “but I will explain what I can.”

Can you ease a headache?” Frodo asked hopefully.


Frodo looked wary.  “Are you certain this won’t harm you?  Promise?”

“I promise.”  Again Aragorn touched Frodo’s brow, and his eyes lost their focus.  He sang softly, a chant that seemed to flow through Frodo like water, leaving him relaxed and calm.

“Mmmm,” Frodo murmured.  “It’s eased a bit, thank you.  Perhaps I could manage a bite of breakfast.”

** TBC **

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