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Disclaimer: The Lord of the Rings and its characters and settings are the property of the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien, New Line Cinemas, and their licensees. These works were produced with admiration and respect, as fan fiction for entertainment purposes only, not for sale or profit. My thanks to Marigold for her thoughtful comments on the early parts of this story.
Walking Near the Edge
He only hoped the book would be dull enough. Blowing some of the accumulated dust from the cover (an important factor in making his selection), Bilbo tucked the book carefully under his arm and hurried outside and down the stairs. He barely had time to visit with his lad before the Dúnadan was to come to remove Frodo’s stitches. Bilbo’s lined face tightened. Frodo was going to need him this morning, and whatever comfort Bilbo could offer. Even if it was only being bored senseless into sleep.
“How are both of my lads this fine morning, Sam?” Bilbo asked with forced cheerfulness as the gardener opened the door.
“Fine, Mr. Bilbo,” Sam replied. “Good morning to you, sir.”
Over Sam’s shoulder, Bilbo could see Frodo already seated on one of the divans, tucked in layers of blankets, a warm dressing gown about him. “Frodo my lad, you didn’t walk there by yourself, did you?” Bilbo worried.
“Good morning, Bilbo,” Frodo said, his wan face lighting with joy. Bilbo smiled, sending yet another thanks to the Powers above that had brought his boy back to him through darkness and danger. “No,” Frodo continued, sounding slightly put out. “Sam fears I might trip and shatter, I think. Really, Bilbo, I have walked a little—I won’t fall. But Sam insisted I lean on him for the vast distance between my bed and this chair.”
Bilbo handed the book to Sam and tottered over to his nephew. “Which shows that our Sam has more sense than you do, my lad. Elrond wants you kept still and quiet until you are stronger. No walking on your own until he gives you leave.”
“Yes, Bilbo,” Frodo said resignedly, but his eyes shown with warmth at Bilbo’s clucking over him. Then he plucked at the coverings. “Sam, must I be wrapped in all these blankets? I am too hot.”
“Lord Elrond said you were to keep warm, Mr. Frodo,” Sam returned austerely. “You just leave them blankets alone.” Frodo sighed and gave up.
“Did he have a restful night, Sam?” Bilbo asked.
“Not too good, sir,” Sam replied. “He was feverish all night. He was a-tossing and a-turning every time I looked in on him.”
“Maybe your constant checking kept me awake, Sam,” Frodo said wryly.
“Did he eat well this morning?”
Sam pursed his lips, his disapproval evident. “I’d say not, Mr. Bilbo,” he reported mercilessly. “He ate the eggs and strawberries, but wouldn’t touch the porridge or toast or sausages.”
Bilbo nodded, digesting this information. “And after? In the privy, did—”
“Bilbo!” Frodo yelped, his face flushing.
“Just checking on you, Frodo-lad,” the old hobbit said, amusement glinting in his bright old eyes. “How else would I know how you are doing if I don’t ask Samwise?”
“I can answer for myself, you know,” Frodo remarked with some exasperation.
“He’s getting testy,” Sam informed Bilbo. “Snapped at Master Pippin when the lad offered to butter his toast. Suppose that means he’s feeling better.”
Fortunately, further discussion was interrupted by a knock upon the door. Bilbo did not miss the sudden apprehension on Frodo’s face. But his nephew greeted Aragorn with genuine pleasure—until he caught sight of the tray of small, sharp knives and bandages the Ranger carried.
Aragorn greeted the hobbits and lowered himself onto a chair next to Frodo. “Let’s have a look at you, my friend.”
Frodo dutifully leaned back against the cushioned arm, grimacing as he one-handedly tried to loosen the drawstrings of his nightshirt. Sam leaned over and did it for him. Bilbo moved closer and Sam drew up another chair for him, helping the elderly hobbit up into it.
The Ranger rinsed his hands in the basin Sam had prepared and shook his fingers dry. Gently and carefully he examined the sutured wound, probing the livid mark with his sensitive fingers. Bilbo grimaced—the shoulder was brilliant with bruising and the wound, though closed, was swollen and angry-looking. It looked much worse than had the cold, white mark marring Frodo’s shoulder when he had arrived at Imladris, unconscious and dying.
The stitches stood out like miniature hen-tracks against the pale skin, a neat row of tiny black ‘x’s marching across his nephew’s shoulder. Frodo clenched his jaw when Aragorn pressed gently against the skin to see how the healing was progressing. The flesh indented slightly but did not give much, and Aragorn’s face grew stern. Completing his examination, he leaned back in the chair and regarded Frodo, who looked back with a frown.
“Sore, is it?” Aragorn asked. Frodo’s grimace was answer enough. “Frodo, I want you to raise your arm, curl your hand tightly, and hold it straight out.”
Frodo did, though his arm began to quiver almost immediately. When Aragorn said nothing, perspiration began to bloom on Frodo’s brow and his arm began to shake noticeably. Aragorn watched both the shaking arm and Frodo’s face for some moments before reaching out to catch Frodo’s arm and guiding it down. “That’s enough. Thank you.”
“What did that prove?” Sam asked.
“I wanted to test Frodo’s strength,” Aragorn replied absently. “Arm and hand both.” He pulled Frodo’s arm towards him, supporting the elbow so that the pain was not so great. With all three hobbits watching him closely, he turned the arm one way then the other, testing the degree of movement. “Flesh and muscle were torn when you were attacked, Frodo. More damage was done when we had to cut and cut again to find the shard imbedded in your body and remove it.”
He glanced up. Frodo was looking at him sombrely but it was Bilbo and Sam that drew his attention. Both had gone white.
“Hobbits are remarkable creatures,” Aragorn remarked, holding Frodo’s attention until Bilbo and Sam could recover themselves. “You are healing much faster than I anticipated, Frodo. It is time and past time for those stitches to come out.”
“That’s good, isn’t it?” asked Sam.
“Yes … and no,” Aragorn replied, unrolling one of the long strips of bandage linen. “It is good because the healing is progressing so quickly. It is bad because the healing is progressing so quickly.”
“I hardly think this is time for riddles,” Bilbo reprimanded him.
Aragorn did not smile but amusement glinted in his eyes. “Frodo is healing so quickly that the stitches are being absorbed into his skin.” Bilbo and Frodo looked blank at this but Sam began chewing his lower lip in worry. “And that means,” Aragorn continued with a nod at Sam, “that I am going to have to press quite hard to be able to cut them and pull them out.”
“Press on them?” Frodo repeated, dread in his voice.
“And pull to get them out,” Aragorn repeated in a soft voice. “It is going to hurt, Frodo.”
“Cannot you just leave them?”
“No,” Aragorn replied. “They must come out. I will have to use forceps—they are too tight and small for me to merely cut the knot and pull them free.” He paused, looking into the pale face.
“Would you like me to come back a little later, Frodo?”
Frodo shook his head. “No. I would prefer to get it over with.”
“Well spoken,” the Ranger said warmly. “I have a liquid that will numb sensation to the area, but it will not block all the pain.” He uncorked a glass vial from the tray and poured a small amount on a bandage, using the tip to paint a bright orange line of liquid over the stitches.
Frodo craned his neck to look down at the line and shivered. “It feels cold. And the smell isn’t very nice.”
“It isn’t designed to smell nice,” the Ranger replied absently, returning the vial to the tray. “Bilbo, would you mind holding Frodo’s hand?”
The old hobbit moved opposite the Ranger and captured his Frodo’s right hand. The other was clenched tight against the cushions. Seeing this Aragorn said, “Frodo, relax. Tensing will make it hurt the more. Relax.” Frodo nodded but his grip did not lessen noticeably. With a sigh, Aragorn chose the smallest, sharpest scalpel and leaned over the pair.
Bilbo closed his eyes at the first thread of red against the white skin. Frodo inhaled sharply and a sound not unlike a whimper escaped his lips.
“Frodo,” Aragorn said, “breathe. Inhale. Frodo, inhale! Exhale. Good. Again.” Frodo nodded but did not speak, his lips pressed tightly together.
“Bilbo!” All three hobbits jumped. “You also are to breathe!” Aragorn said severely. “Almost done, Frodo,” he said a few moments later, exchanging the knife for a pair of tiny forceps from the tray. “You are doing very well.”
“Yes,” Frodo whispered, his face rigid.
Aragorn said nothing after that, but sought to remove the stitches as quickly as possible. He had cut each cross-tied stitch but now had to tug them free. The forceps pushed the flesh away from the thread, at times tearing the healing skin. It did not hurt as the cutting had hurt but when it was over, Frodo shuddered against Bilbo for a moment, then straightened and thanked the Ranger with all the courtesy of his gentlehobbit upbringing. Bilbo was proud of him.
The old hobbit realized that Aragorn was watching Frodo closely as the Dúnadan laid his knives carefully on the tray. Sam had already picked up the linen and was holding it ready. The bandages were applied in silence, wrapping around Frodo’s chest and up over his shoulder, around his back to his front, forming a thick pad to cushion the wound and keep it clean. That done, Aragorn looked from his patient to the bed, then raised an eyebrow at Bilbo.
The old hobbit grimaced and nodded. Aragorn nodded back. “Frodo,” the Ranger said, “let me help you back to bed. You should rest now.”
Frodo had closed his eyes, sagging back against the arm of the divan. Now he opened them, shaking his head. “Thank you, Aragorn, but I am fine.” His voice was very soft and strained, hoarse, and exhaustion was writ in every line of his body. “I think I will sit here for a while and listen to the birds.”
Bilbo and Aragorn exchanged a glance. Bilbo rolled his eyes at the ceiling and Aragorn stifled a smile, their long years of friendship allowing each to know the other’s thoughts.
“Frodo, let me carry you,” Aragorn urged. “It will be easier than trying to walk, even with Sam’s help.”
“Listen to him, lad. It’s a fine line between being strong and being silly. Let Aragorn help you.”
“You don’t look so good, Mr. Frodo. Please let Strider help you.”
“Sam—” Sam stood up straight and folded his arms across his chest. He said nothing more but gazed at his master with a severe expression, brows lowered.
“All right! All right!” Frodo leaned back against the cushions and laughed, then gasped as the movement jarred his shoulder. “Please don’t make me laugh.” He smiled then, his eyes warming as he looked at them. “You all conspire against me … and I thank you for it. Aragorn, I would be grateful for your help. Thank you.”
Bilbo beamed. “That’s my boy.”
Aragorn gained his feet and stretched. Then very carefully, he slid an arm under Frodo’s knees and slipped the other around the hobbit’s back, careful that he did not press against the wound. He lifted, taking the blanket up with Frodo so that it trailed beneath him. Sam quickly gathered it up and held it out of the way so that it did not trip them.
Frodo gasped as he was lifted into the air, up to what seemed a great height to the hobbit. His right hand clutched Aragorn’s forearm and the Ranger smiled at him reassuringly, cradling him against his body so that Frodo would not feel so unsupported.
Walking with exaggerated care, Aragorn led the way with Sam holding the end of the blanket. With Bilbo following, the small processional moved to Frodo’s bed, where the hobbit was laid down against the plump pillows. Frodo released a sigh of relief as the transfer was made, and Sam and Bilbo echoed him.
Aragorn sank down on the edge of the mattress and gently caught the hobbit’s arm in one hand, placing a finger on the pulse-point of the underside of the wrist. After a moment he gently pulled open the top of Frodo’s nightshirt, looking for telltale pricks of red on the white cloth.
“You are to remain quiet, Frodo,” the Ranger said, retying the drawstrings. “I will return this evening. Elrond, also, will wish to examine the wound. Frodo, rest. No visits from those cousins of yours until mid-afternoon. I mean this.”
He paused, eyeing the hobbit. “A sleeping draught—”
“No thank you, Aragorn. I will be good, truly. And if I am not, I am certain that Bilbo and Sam will browbeat me into obedience.”
The Ranger raised an eyebrow. “Yes, I can see that you are being terribly used, Frodo. Bilbo and Sam must bully you unmercifully.”
“They do,” Frodo assured the man earnestly, eyes wide. Sam snorted and set about tucking in the blanket, having to cross around the foot of the bed to reach the far side to do so.
“He gets the tendency for dramatics from the Took side,” Bilbo commented.
“I do not—”
“And the tendency to argue from the Brandybuck side,” Bilbo continued, ignoring the interruption.
“I do not—what?” Frodo yelped indignantly.
“What does he inherit from the Baggins side?” Aragorn asked, enjoying the affectionate teasing.
Bilbo was silent for a moment. Then he reached out and gently stroked Frodo’s face, love in every brush of his fingers.
“Bravery,” he whispered softly.
* TBC *
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