Bend In the Road, A
1. In Haste to a Sickbed
Look at me, now I'm rambling on and on without even bothering to explain myself. How rude I am! You're a stranger, and I haven't even told you who I am. Well, my name is Lily Goldworthy. I have never been farther than the borders of Bree in all my years, but I have seen a great deal in the Shire for all that. For many years, I was the most famous healer in the Shire and parts around. There are many midwives and nurses among the hobbits, but my particular profession was rather unique.
It all began after my parents died, my father from falling on a scythe and my mother of a spider's bite, and I was left alone in the world. I had some skill with herbs, and I established a small practice as a herb-doctor and nurse. I made most of my money from attending birth-beds, but I quickly taught myself more of medicine than simple hobbit midwifery. I did what few hobbits had dared to do—I read the books of Men, and the books of Elves that were translated into the Common Speech. I learned of the true art of medicine as practiced by men of Gondor, and of skill in setting bones and healing wounds.
Well, it wasn't long before my fame spread across the Shire. I went from birth-beds to death-beds and everywhere in between. I was particularly known for my talent for easing the elderly and dying out of life as gently as possible. Because of my skill at soothing pain when all else failed, they called me the Gray Midwife. Some of the more ignorant spoke the name with fear, but I hardly minded. I continued to live by myself in my family's cottage on the edges of Hobbiton. My life could be exhausting and sometimes lonely, but I felt no lack until I met Frodo.
I remember quite clearly the day that Farmer Cotton first rode up to my door. It was a dreadfully windy morning in March, not long after the Travellers had returned and those ruffians had been turned out of the Shire. I opened the door to find the ruddy-faced Farmer Cotton standing before me, holding the reins of his pony. "Miss Goldworthy?"
I curtsied. "And a good morning to you, Master Cotton. Do you require my aid?"
"Well, you might say that." The old farmer's face was tense with fear. "It's Master Frodo, miss, and a strange thing such as I've never seen in all my born days. If you'd get your bag, miss, and old Bess will carry us both."
I ran to get my doctoring bag, and Farmer Cotton helped me up onto Bess. I rode behind him all the way to his farm, hanging on for dear life because the old hobbit urged the poor pony on at a fantastic speed. I usually preferred to walk to my cases, and now I remembered why.
After what seemed like an endless ride of terror, although it could have been no more than ten minutes by the clock, we arrived at the Cotton farm. Mrs. Cotton must have heard Bill's hooves thumping down the road, for he met us at his gate. "Good, good," she cried, "you've brought the right hobbit for the job and no mistake." She smiled at me nervously as I reached down to take her hand. "I'm still remembering as how she fixed Tom's leg when he caught it under the wagon wheel, and made it good as new."
"I hope we're not too late," Farmer Cotton replied, and helped me down from Bess's back. "If anything happens to Master Frodo, I'll never forgive myself!" He took my arm and walked me to the stoop of the farmhouse as Rosie Cotton held the door open for me.
"Do you have any idea what's wrong with Mister Baggins?" I asked in a hushed voice as Mistress Cotton and Rose led me to the sickroom.
"Not a clue," said Farmer Cotton, shaking his head. "Found him that way this morning when I woke up. Awful stuff! Must be something he picked up on his travels, but I wouldn't know. And Master Sam would be off somewhere, planting trees and what not! Well, I ought to let you see for yourself, miss."
The old farmer opened the door of Frodo's room, and I stepped in softly. Frodo lay on the bed in a tangled mess of linen sheets. With his right hand, he absently fingered a sparkling white gem on a chain around his neck. His hair was damp with sweat, and his eyes were fever-bright, looking straight ahead but seeing nothing. I moved swiftly to the bedside and put a practiced hand to his forehead. "He's burning with fever something terrible," I murmured, half to myself. "As if a dreadful fire were consuming him from inside…"
He still did not look at me, and his mouth formed words that could barely be heard. I leaned closer to hear him, for the speech of the delirious often revealed the terrible burden that the diseased mind bore. But to my surprise, the words Frodo spoke were in no language that I knew or had even heard before in my life. "Ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg durbalutuk…" he mumbled to himself, over and over. I had no idea what he was saying, but it was some sort of curse by the sound of it.
I drew away with a shudder and reached into my bag for the right herbs. "He is ill, but not so ill that I cannot help him. Would you bring me some hot water, Mistress Cotton? I think I have something that will do the trick." All the Cottons rushed off, as glad to have something to do as I was to have them gone. They were dear people, but you can't imagine how distracting it is to have frightened relatives hovering about the patient.
As I rummaged through my bag for the feverbane, I sang softly to myself. I was very startled to hear a clear voice ring out from the sickbed. "Who are you?"
I looked over at the bed. Frodo was sitting up, looking directly at me, his eyes still filled with delirium. I rushed over and pushed him back down onto the bed again. "You must rest, Master Frodo. Lily is here and you will be well soon," I whispered soothingly.
Now his brilliant blue eyes looked beyond me, at something no mortal should be able to see. He reached out and clasped my hands like a drowning man grabs at a rope. "Help me," he breathed, and fell back onto his pillow. "Help me."
I murmured something comforting, but I was frightened. I had attended many a patient with the fever, but there was something dark, something wrong and…well, unearthly…about this sickness. Fortunately, he did not speak any more, and Mistress Cotton soon came back with the hot water. I mixed a concoction of feverbane and bird's-mint and fed it to him, and it seemed to work well enough. I stayed with him for the next few hours, sponging him off with cool water and feeding him more medicine when the delirium threatened to return.
As it turned out, I spent that night and the next with the Cottons, for the good family feared their guest might again fall ill during the night. It was well worth it, for Farmer Cotton offered to double my usual fee. At first, I tried to refuse, but eventually settled for half over my usual price and a few good solid meals, courtesy of Mrs. Cotton. The more I tended my mysterious patient, the more he fascinated me. I had heard many tales of the other three Travellers, but local opinion was mostly silent on the subject of Frodo Baggins. From what little I had heard, he was as odd and bookish as Mister Bilbo had been, and had played no great part in the adventures his companions had had out in the world of Men.
But there seemed to be far more to Frodo's story. I could find no wound on him that would cause such a fever, and he suffered from no cough or pox. And then there was the matter of the strange words he'd uttered. Something he had picked up on his travels, Farmer Cotton had said. I didn't doubt that the old hobbit was right, although not in the sense that he meant it. This was far more than the usual head cold or digestive upset one usually gets when traveling abroad. Frodo's soul seemed to be sick, as it were. However, I had no hope of ever discovering his true story until the morning I made ready to leave the Cotton farm.
I had packed up my bags and was preparing to walk back to my cottage when Rose caught me by the arm. "Could you come back a while, Lily?" she asked shyly. "Master Frodo wants to speak to you. He's feeling ever so much better now."
"Certainly, Rose." I turned and followed her back into the house, wondering what my patient could possibly have to say to me.
Frodo certainly looked far better than he had the morning before. He was sitting up in bed and partaking of the hearty breakfast that Mrs. Cotton had brought in to him on a tray. "Good morning, Miss Goldworthy," he said, swallowing a bite of hotcake and smiling at me.
I curtsied politely and smiled back. "Good morning, Mister Baggins. I must say, it's a great pleasure to see you looking so hale and healthy! I was afraid that Master Samwise would return and find you ill, and then I should really catch it!"
Frodo laughed. "No, not from Sam. He is as gentle as a fieldmouse."
"Except where you are concerned!"
"That's right." He laughed heartily again. "I am sorry to have put you and my hosts to such trouble. No, don't be polite and say that it was no trouble. I know I should not have gotten well as quickly as I had without your help. I shall pay your fee at once, of course." He reached for a small leather bag lying on the bedside table.
"No, no," I blurted, shaking my head, "Farmer Cotton's already paid me."
Frodo put the bag back on the table rather forcefully. "He is too kind! Well, I must reimburse him one way or another, and I mean to. And as for you, Mistress Goldworthy, when I finish rebuilding Bag End, you are to drop in for tea any time you wish. Whenever you're in the neighborhood, you know…" He trailed off, looking down at his breakfast tray again.
"That's very kind of you, Mister Baggins." I curtsied again and made to leave.
He called out after me as I walked to the door. "Please, just call me Frodo."
I turned back with a smile. "Then you must call me Lily." I shut the door gently behind me.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.