1. Chapter One
Foreword: Frodo, still battling his post-Quest injuries, falls ill the night after he arrives in Edoras. A concerned Eowyn nurses him after awakening, but ends up inadvertently learning one of Frodo’s deepest secrets, and struggles to comfort her new friend. Many thanks to Ariel & Aratlithiel for beta reading this tale.
I blink as I emerge from a fitful sleep. For a fugitive moment I am uncertain where I am; is this the Houses of Healing? No, I think, how foolish of me. The light from the guttering candle beside my bed dimly illuminates my own bedchamber here in Meduseld, with my familiar things in their old places and everything carefully arranged by Aegyth. I do not know at first why I have awakened unexpectedly, but wish I had not, for I was in the middle of a most interesting dream. Faramir was with me, kissing me, caressing me, making me hot with longing and desire as he embraced me and our naked bodies melted into each other’s.
I am uncomfortably aware of a heavy, inflamed weight in my groin; a previously unknown but not unwelcome sensation. A faint noise catches my attention, and I strain to hear more clearly. More noises come from the guest chamber next to mine, and realize something is wrong. Is it Merry, or—the Valar forbid—is Frodo ill again?
I whip the counterpane off and snatch up my light robe, shrugging into it as I hurry out barefoot and without the candle. As I approach the chamber, I can hear the noises shape themselves into voices—worried, frightened hobbit voices trying not to be too loud. I pull the door open, bracing myself for what I might discover on the other side.
Sam, Merry, and Pippin are all huddled in the middle of one of the two large beds inside, kneeling around a prone body. Oh no, it is Frodo . . . I hasten to the bed and look down. Frodo is sprawled out, his dark hair sweat-soaked and his teeth chattering; his mutilated hand clutches the front of his damp nightshirt as he shivers uncontrollably. Sam wipes his brow, while Merry tries to stop his trembling and Pippin fights to moisten his lips.
Merry sees me and scrambles down onto the floor, his face full of consternation. “Eowyn! We didn’t mean to wake you—I’m so sorry!"
“There is no need to apologize. I am the lady of this hall, after all, and it is my duty to tend to an ill guest.” I stoop over Frodo and gently lay my hand on his forehead. “It is a fever or a chill, Frodo?”
“A little of both, it seems, but more fever than not,” he grinds out, his frustration at his condition transparent. “And it may be your duty to look after me, but I would prefer not to disturb you—Sam will do it, he’s used to this now—”
“We’ll care for him, my lady,” Sam says anxiously. I study him, and note the dark circles under his eyes, the paleness in his normally rosy face. Merry and Pippin appear little better; they both are half-asleep, their eyelids drooping. I shake my head and lay a hand against Sam’s cheek.
“None of you have slept enough lately as it is, and you in particular are still recovering quite as much as Frodo,” I say firmly. “You need rest too. Go back to bed, all of you, and I shall take Frodo to my chamber to watch over him.” Sam opens his mouth to protest, but I cut him short ruthlessly. “Do not argue! I insist on this, and you will accept it, I beg of you.” Sam subsides reluctantly, and I bend over Frodo once more.
“Can you walk, or shall I carry you? I do not wish to treat you like a baby.”
Frodo’s smile is a half-grimace. “Nor do I, but I’m afraid you have to—I doubt I can stand at this moment, much less walk.”
I gather him up and lift him onto my hip, ignoring the pain that courses through my damaged arm. As I do this, Sam crawls to the head of the bed, curling up amongst the pillows as he tries not to be upset. Pippin joins him, offering unspoken comfort to his distressed friend. But Merry picks up a candle and looks up at me.
“I’ll light the way for you, and then I’ll collect Frodo’s things.”
If the past few months have taught me anything, it is that arguing with Meriadoc Brandybuck is usually a fruitless exercise. I let him lead us to my room; I move slowly, but more to avoid jostling Frodo than because of any excess weight. In fact, I am a little frightened at how light the Ringbearer seems, as though the flesh is melting away and leaving nothing but bones.
We reach our destination, and I carefully place Frodo on my bed. Merry rushes out as I draw the sheets up, and returns a minute later with a fresh nightshirt and a pile of towels.
“Do you need any water or medicines? There’s a sleeping cordial that Ioreth sent along, and some syrup for his throat.”
“Bring me those, please, and thank you.”
Merry departs again. Frodo moans softly as his teeth start to chatter harder, and he squirms a little as he tries to find a comfortable position. “Curse this stupid weakness of mine,” he mutters. “How humiliating, to always be ill most of the time and being a bother! I am sorry for this, Eowyn.”
“Now you are being too humble,” I say. “After what you endured, you have the right to be taken care of by everyone. Do not worry yourself. This is my privilege, to nurse you.”
A dry laugh escapes him. “Privilege? Only if you say so!”
Merry reappears like a wraith in the dark and gives me two small bottles. He lingers, unwilling to leave. “Is there anything else I should fetch for you, Eowyn? Or should I sit up with you?”
“No, to bed, Merry—Sam will never forgive me if I let you stay. Now go!” I drop a swift kiss onto his hair and push him towards the door. “Or I will turn you over my knee and give you a good spanking, since you are behaving like a child.”
“You wouldn’t—” Merry looks at me. “You would. Good night, then.” He beats a hasty retreat. A bout of coughing from the bed rouses me and I hurry to my patient. I quickly uncork the bottle of syrup and press it to Frodo’s lips. He swallows the soothing draught obediently; I see that his eyes are dancing with mirth, and realize he was trying to laugh when the coughing began instead.
“That I would have loved to see,” he croaks. “I don’t think Merry’s been spanked in years, not since the last time Uncle Sarry whipped him for stealing all the mushrooms from the Brandy Hall pantry. He was twelve, I think.”
“Shall I summon your cousin back then, if you find that image so amusing?”
“No.” He shivers again. “Not this time . . .”
“Let me sponge you off, then.”
I pour water into the silver ewer, dip a cloth, and bathe Frodo’s forehead. I can feel how wet his nightshirt is; it is nearly soaked through. “Can you sit up? I need to wash you and put you into something clean.”
He winces. “Must you? We are friends, I know, but I do find the prospect of being naked in front of you to be embarrassing.” A ghost of a smile flits over his fine features. “And what will Faramir think of you undressing me here, only two days before your betrothal?”
“A fine jest, since we both know he will take no offense, or do you think he will mistake you for Pippin, and stop trusting you?” Frodo smiles, and my tone becomes coaxing. “Come now, let me do this . . .”
He sits up, biting his lower lip, and I ease him out of the nightshirt, leaving the strange silver pendant he wears undisturbed. I run the wet cloth over his chest and neck, trying to ease the tension in his muscles, and flinching inwardly at the scars scattered across his torso. Whip marks crisscross his back, and a healed knife wound puckers the skin on his left shoulder. There are various burns, especially on his feet, and the worst is his mutilated left hand, with the ugly stump where his ring finger once was.
But even all this evidence of the ghastly physical torments inflicted upon him cannot dim the beauty I first marveled at the day I met him in the Court of the White Tree. The unmarred parts of his complexion are a soft cream, while his huge azure eyes form a striking contrast to his black curls. The reddish lips are a perfectly shaped bow, but the cleft in his chin keeps him from seeming too girlish. And as I begin to work my way downward with the cloth, I can see that his beauty is not merely in his face, but also in his body. Even in his current state of thinness, he is flawlessly proportioned, with a hint of hidden strength about him. As I push the sheet farther back, I also see that well-proportioned beauty extends everywhere; I am suddenly and acutely aware of Frodo as a male, not as some little creature that I have nothing in common with. I feel a stab of deep pity for the cousin Merry told me of; Pippin’s sister, I think he said. Little wonder she is still in love with him after so many years; Frodo would make any hobbit maid a splendid husband—that much is clear.
I blush hotly, ashamed of my thoughts at first. Why should I react this way when I am but two days from my betrothal? But I realize that fact is what has sharpened my senses and changed my perceptions. I recall the wild kissing session I shared with Faramir before we left Minas Tirith, and how curious I have been since then about what our wedding night will bring., not to mention my dream tonight. So it is natural, I suppose, for me to feel this way, especially when the male I am gazing at is both a friend and someone who would never share my bed in that way, being of a different race.
I glance up at Frodo’s face, concerned he has perceived my inner turmoil. But his lids are closed, and he is far calmer than he was earlier. I continue sponging him, for it cools his fevered skin. As I stroke his leg, he stirs a bit and makes a soft sound deep in his throat. A quick glance confirms he is not aroused, but rather is taking innocent pleasure in my care. Reassured, I complete his bath and ease him up so I can dress him again. He does not speak until I lower him back against a pillow.
“Thank you. I feel better now that the fever is fading.”
“You are very welcome.” I reach over to the pitcher, pour a cup of water, and hold it while he drinks. As he does this, my hair brushes his cheek.
“Your hair smells nice, do you know that?” he says after he finishes drinking. “I hope Faramir understands how lucky he is, persuading you to marry him. He’ll be the envy of every man in Minas Tirith after you’re wedded, I’m sure of it.”
“How you three cousins do carry on about my supposed loveliness! Flattery must be some kind of disease in your family, is it not?”
“It’s not flattery to compliment a bonny lass,” he retorts with surprising spirit. “We hobbits pride ourselves on noticing a pretty face, as I’m sure you know by now.”
“Young Master Peregrin certainly subscribes to that,” I observe.
“Don’t mind him—Pippin’s an irrepressible brat sometimes, but he means well. And you surely don’t think that Merry is cozening you, do you? He cares about more that you can imagine. I believe he loves you now as much as his mother and his sweetheart. And that is high praise indeed, for Aunt Esmie has always been one of the best-hearted folk in the world, and that includes Gandalf, by the by. Stella’s character is the best, too.”
“All to the good if you and Merry think I am like them, but that does not answer the question of Merry, and the rest of you, exaggerating the quality of my appearance. Are you?” I ask it teasingly, wanting to entertain him briefly and have him forget his physical distress.
“No, for Stella is pretty, and Aunt Esmie is too, at least to me.”
“Merry told me once that Sam’s lass was quite a little beauty.”
“Rosie Cotton? Yes, she is, she’s very lovely. I don’t doubt Sam will marry her as soon as we go home and start to work on having a flock of babies with her. If Merry keeps his wits about him, he’ll settle matters with Stella quickly too.”
I do not reply at first, wondering if I dare venture onto dangerous ground. But Frodo’s mood seems lighter that it was at the beginning of our conversation, and surely there is no real harm in speaking of his own old sweetheart. After all, Merry did leave me with the impression that he might marry his cousin still. “And what about you?” I finally ask.
“What about me?”
“Will you be marrying soon? Merry told me you were interested in your very beautiful cousin once upon a time, and she’s a widow now, he said. Might you not settle down and lead the life of ease you have so richly earned?”
He stares at me, nonplussed. He turns his head away for a moment, looks back, and speaks, his voice flat. “Merry told you about Pearl, then.”
“Yes, he did.” Alarmed at his tone, I decide to change the subject; it is clear I have erred in saying this. “I am so very sorry if I have spoken wrongly, or if he should not have confided it to me. We shall speak of other things.”
“No, it’s fine,” he says, sighing wearily. “You and Merry have no secrets, so I should not be surprised. And it might be good to talk to someone—I cannot keep running away from Pearl for the rest of my days. I need to tell her the truth when I return. She deserves that at least, after we made such a total mess of everything.”
I decide to humor him by continuing to talk of his lost love. “What did go wrong?”
“What didn’t?” His eyes become unfocused as he remembers. “There was the accident with our elderly cousin, when her wheeled chair went tumbling down the front steps while Pearl was looking after her. It wasn’t Pearl’s fault, I knew that, though the gossip swirling around the Shire was ugly. Folk were whispering Pearl had deliberately pushed the chair because she was arguing with Lalia—about marrying me, it was said. Cousin Ferumbras asked us to outwait the chattering tongues and hold off marrying. The odd thing was, I didn’t really mind doing that by then.”
“Because your feelings had altered?”
“They had, but it took me a long time to piece together why. It wasn’t the accident, you see—it was the Ring.”
“The Ring?” I look at him, not comprehending fully. “What did it have to do with you and your cousin?”
“It was like a jealous mistress, not wanting me to care about anyone or anything but it. I inherited from Bilbo only a few months before the accident, so it deceived me, twisting the way I saw things, veiling my vision. It was easy for it to use me and convince me Pearl had done something evil, that her heart was tainted, when I was the one who was being poisoned.” He falls silent, sweat beading his brow, his mouth compressed into a tight line.
I smooth his hair and say gently, “But the Ring is destroyed, and will trouble you no further. I do not doubt your cousin will understand, once you explain all to her, and then you can marry her and mend everything. I know Merry said widows do not often remarry in the Shire, but surely you of all hobbits will be permitted to wed whom you choose.”
“Oh, Eowyn, how I wish it was that simple,” he says softly.
“But why would it not be? You are recovering from your injuries, however slowly, and will be in good health eventually.”
He pins me with a piercing look, full of barely masked grief and anger. “But some injuries are beyond healing . . . there are some I cannot bring myself to speak of openly, not even to my dearest kin and friends.”
“Come now, what could be so horrible that you cannot even tell Merry or Sam of it?” I tell him, determined to lift his suddenly black mood.
“Do you truly wish to know? I am willing to tell you, if you will hear it . . . we have not been friends for long, but somehow I think I should share this with you. You may understand better than the others, I do believe.”
“Yes, tell me, if doing so brings you comfort.” I cannot picture what he could possibly be so secretive about . . .
Frodo takes a deep breath. “I can’t marry Pearl—can’t marry anyone—because I can’t be a proper husband any longer, not after what the Ring has done to me.”
I look at him disbelievingly in the flickering candlelight, a terrible suspicion growing within me. “What are you saying? But surely not—” I falter, hoping that I am wrong.
“Yes,” he says, “the Ring has finally burned me up, eaten every scrap of my spirit, taken away everything—including my potency in the end. No wife, no children, nothing of me will be left behind when I leave this world.” He stares at the ceiling, his bitterness painfully obvious. “Do you understand now why I dare not speak of this with my kin? They could not bear the thought that their future happiness was bought at such an extravagant price. Children mean everything to hobbits, and they could not stomach this news, believe me. I do not want to cause them more sorrow, especially Sam.” He turns to me, his face softening. “Sam has suffered enough on my account. I want to be happy with Rosie, the way he should be, with no shadows or guilt hanging over him. And he would be guilty if he knew the whole truth about me now, thinking he should have done more to help me with the Ring and that he could have prevented the worst damage.”
“Oh, Frodo,” I whisper, overwhelmed by profound pity, “is there nothing I can say to ease this burden?”
“No, I’m afraid not.” He coughs a bit again. “It’s just as well, really, that Pearl married someone else and had children with him. At least she didn’t wait for me, for then she would be cheated all over again.” His eyes mist over with regret and longing. “But I will confess to a little jealousy when I see you and Faramir together. You two will have something I can but dream of now. Even if the two of you were not betrothed, and you were standing before me unclothed, I could feel, do, nothing.” He pauses. “You must view me as the most unnatural creature in all Middle-earth, now that you know my secret.”
I choke a little, fighting down tears. “How could you think that? You are not that, not in the least.” I hug him against my breast, rocking him. “I only wish I could help you in some way!”
“You are—it’s just a relief to finally tell someone the whole truth. And do not mistake me—I’m so very glad you are on the verge of real joy. It does make up for my own loss when those I care for are happy.” He looks at me wistfully. “Stay with me, until I sleep?”
“Yes. Let me give you some of your sleeping potion.”
He drinks it down and closes his eyes, his injured hand gripping the silver pendant. I sit beside him, holding his other hand, a desperate pain pressing on my chest. Nothing. He will have nothing, no warmth, no passion, no love, nothing. . .
I do not move until I hear the even, slow breaths that tell me Frodo slumbers at last. I slip my hand out of his and creep across the floor, praying none of the floorboards creak, and shut the door noiselessly. Then I flee blindly, seeking a refuge to vent my tears privately, grief and rage flooding my heart that this jewel of a being has sacrificed his whole life for the rest of us.
Nothing . . .
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.