40. Head Colds and Heartaches
“Well I’m sorry, I’m sure, Merry.” The youngest hobbit sniffed deeply and rubbed at his dripping nose.
Sam handed him a handkerchief. “Do you think Lord Elrond is going to make us take those nasty tonics o’ his?”
“I’ve had all of those I want,” replied Frodo firmly. “You three are welcome to my share.”
“Oh no, Cousin,” returned Merry. “If we have to drink anything nauseating, so do you. You’ll probably be first, as you came out the worst from our little dip in the river.”
“Let’s not talk about that,” moaned Samwise with a shiver. “I don’t even want ‘ta think about it. I’m never putting a toe in water bigger than a bathtub again. And that includes them drowning-pools you lot call the bathhouse.”
“A hot bath would certainly feel good,” murmured Frodo, blue eyes wistful.
“Not much chance of that, with Lord Elrond confining us to your room,” Merry said sorrowfully.
A depressed silence settled over the hobbits. In all truth, if they had to be constrained until they were better, the Ring-bearer’s room was the best choice. The two-room suite was the largest of the accommodations Elrond had granted his guests and the balcony boasted a lovely view of Rivendell’s mountains and waterfalls. Though three smaller beds had been added to the room, the hobbits were comfortably ensconced in Frodo’s. Pippin lay on his stomach, feet kicking idly in the air. Merry and Frodo sat back against the carved headboard, a book shared between them. Sam sat tailor-fashion near Pippin, nimble fingers sewing up a pair of breeches the tweenager had torn the knees out of. All four were covered in a colorful variety of warm blankets and quilts, which Elrond had firmly decreed stay in place. Food (‘nourishing, no doubt,’ thought Frodo) was to be delivered to them and their needs met by attentive Elves.
“I’m going to go mad,” Merry announced.
“Will we be able to tell?” asked Pippin, and got a poke for his trouble.
“Lads,” began Frodo warningly, “it’s going to be a long enough time in here without -”
Sudden the air was filled with flying pillows, without any of the hobbits quite being sure who had struck the first blow. Feathers drifted through the room amidst gleeful hobbit-shouts. Frodo went down under an assault from Merry; Pippin evened the score by bouncing hard just behind his cousins, sending them both windmilling into the air. Sam had been waiting his chance and as Frodo and Merry descended, he flung his sturdy self flat on the bed, catapulting into the center. Up went Frodo and Merry again, but got their revenge upon coming down, pillows at the ready.
“Take that, you beast!”
“Hah! Right between the eyes!”
Elrond opened the door at the sudden increase in volume and his ageless eyes widened in shock. He had not seen such a sight since his children had been very, very young. Seeing four adult (with the exception of one) hobbits engaged in such a pastime floored him. A feather drifted over and lodged itself unnoticed in his dark hair.
“Look out, sir!”
“Get him, Sam! Hold him down!”
“No tickling! No tickling!”
Very carefully and quietly, Elrond closed the door. Gandalf regarded the goose down feather from his chair and smiled, the sparkle back in his eyes, “Wise decision,” he remarked.
“We have entrusted the fate of the world to these?” Elrond asked, gesturing to the closed door. From the sound of it, Pippin was being held down and murdered.
The old wizard smiled, cocking his head as Frodo shrieked, “Not fair! It’s three against one!”
Samwise’s voice rose above the others. “Good odds, those!”
“I could think of no better Bearer,” Gandalf remarked softly. “The Ring will find no hold in Frodo Baggins. It preys on greed and ambition and lust, and Frodo’s heart contains none of those things. There is no darkness in his soul.”
“Yet,” said the Elf-lord softly, resuming his seat.
Elrond was startled to see tears start in the wizard’s eyes. “Yet,” Gandalf agreed.
The immortal Elf-lord regarded his old friend compassionately. Gandalf seemed to have closed on himself, tearing gaze inward, his lined face drawn with pain. Elrond’s memory traveled back to his Council, when the hobbit had risen unnoticed to his feet and still weak from his dreadful wound, walked slowly into the edge of the quarreling combatants. His soft voice still echoed in Elrond’s ears. “I will take the Ring!” They had ignored him, all of them. It was not until he repeated it, that the members turned to stare in shock. And Elrond had seen such pain and such relief on Gandalf’s face as to sear his heart.
“What he may come to in the end we cannot know,” Elrond said softly, seeking words to reassure and comfort.
“If he survives,” whispered the wizard.
Elrond acknowledged that with a nod of his elegant head. “If he survives. And is not broken by the bearing. We cannot see all ends, my friend.” Gandalf nodded, his gaze still on the polished floor. In a rare gesture, he wiped his hand roughly across his eyes.
At last the noise in the adjoining room ceased, except for a few scattered coughs. “I wouldn’t go in just yet,” warned Gandalf as the Elf-lord rose. “If I know hobbits, they are guiltily trying to stuff the feathers back in the pillowcases and think up a good explanation for the mess. That they were resting quietly as you instructed, perhaps, when a flock of geese flew in the balcony doors and molted all over the room before departing.”
“I think we should face the miscreants together, old friend,” suggested Elrond. “We will be safer be there two of us.”
* * * * *
Being confined to the Ring-bearer’s room was not so dreadful, the hobbits came to decide. The head cook decreed that, as the little folk would miss meals in the great hall and evenings in the Hall of Fire, that they should have the best Imladris could offer, even before that of its lord. Luncheon was a splendid affair and appreciated not a whit less for being served on trays.
Bilbo selected several books of Elvish tales from the Library and spent much of the remainder of the day in the center of the enormous bed with the others leaning against him, reading tales of adventure and romance and wondrous deeds. Frodo hung over one of the old hobbit’s shoulders and Merry the other, Pippin’s sharp chin digging into his hip. Sam curled at Bilbo’s feet, eyes abstracted and a gentle smile on his face.
When the elderly hobbit’s voice began to give out, he was saved from pleas to continue by the arrival of a steady stream of visitors and well-wishers. Legolas came by to talk with them, as did Gimli. The two regarded each other distrustfully but neither could fault the other’s concern for the halflings. To the hobbits’ delight, the dwarf brought with him several small wire puzzles he had made, twisted chains that seemed integrally linked but which Gimli swore could be taken apart if one could divine the secret.
Merry ran one through his hands and stared at it for a long time, then with a sudden, economical movement, disengaged it. Pippin worked and worked on his before giving up in disgust. Merry took it and the others from him and spent an enjoyable hour figuring them out before linking them all back together again. Sam accidentally stretched his to allow the wire to slip through, which the others avowed negated his victory. Frodo claimed loftily that he was too old for such games, which prompted Merry to accuse his elder cousin of knowing his limits. Frodo hit him with a pillow.
From Gimli and Legolas the hobbits heard that Boromir also had been confined to quarters and was already bored and restless. When Aragorn and Gandalf came some time later, the Elf and the dwarf were sent off with many messages of greeting and thanks for Boromir, which they promised to deliver before tea.
Elladan and Elrohir stopped in briefly, and then Arwen, her arms full of late-blooming flowers that she arranged in vases throughout the room. Pippin trailed after her, picking up stray petals, stars in his eyes. His elder cousins and Sam grinned at each other over the oblivious tweenager’s head. Amusement turned to envy when she bade them farewell. The Evenstar wished them a speedy recovery then kneeling before the door, took Pippin’s face in her long, slender hands and kissed his forehead. Pippin sighed blissfully and returned to the bed, unaware of Merry’s muttered complaints of his cold feet.
But by the next morning, the hobbits did not feel so social. They had little appetite for breakfast and were silent with none of the talk and energy of the previous day. Frodo’s bruises were tender and his ribs ached from Boromir’s desperate grip. Sam and Merry and Pippin were congested and coughing and miserable. All four suffered from a headache and intermittent chills, the result of immersion in freezing river water.
Upon entering, Elrond found himself facing four indistinct lumps in Frodo’s bed. Were it not for those ridiculous, oversized feet, the Elf-lord would have been unable to tell top from toes. After some consideration, he chose what appeared to be the smallest lump and peeled back the covers from unwilling fingers.
“Now Master Peregrin – oh, excuse me, Frodo.” The hobbit looked up at him lethargically and the Elf-lord laid the back of his hand against the small forehead. Hot … as he had feared. The hobbit’s skin felt dry and taut, covered with a thin sheen of perspiration. Frodo closed his eyes and leaned into the cool hands. He did not protest as Elrond examined his eyes and ears and throat, as cool hands pressed along his jaw line and thumped his back, coughing obediently upon command.
By now the healer had an audience. Merry was standing and balancing uncertainly on the soft mattress, watching with a hand on his elder cousin’s shoulder to steady himself. Pippin pressed against Frodo’s sore ribs, interfering with the examination. Sam had braced himself against his master’s back, easing the strain of sitting up for him. Elrond felt their anxious eyes upon him, following his every action. He addressed the Ring-bearer, well aware that he was addressing all four. “You have developed rather a high fever, Master Frodo. Do not be concerned – I have some excellent tonics to combat fever.”
Frodo nodded, that so-blue gaze dull. Elrond’s dark eyes narrowed. “They are somewhat bad-tasting, I fear.” The hobbit nodded again. The other three exchanged concerned glances and Pippin picked up Frodo’s right hand, rubbing it gently. Worried now by the lack of objection to his remedies, the Elf-lord elaborated, “In fact, they are quite foul. Possibly the worst-tasting concoctions I possess.” Another listless nod.
So. Gently untangling the hobbit from the embrace of the others, Elrond wrapped up the Ring-bearer in a quilt and carried him over to one of the ignored beds to examine him without the interference of hovering friends and relatives. When the others would have followed, Elrond ordered them back into the bed with a sharp word and a lift of his eyebrows. Cowed, the hobbits obeyed but watched him from the vantage of the headboard.
Frodo bore this indignity with silent resignation. His mouth a thin line, the healer unwrapped the hobbit and conducted his examination. That completed, he slid the hobbit under the covers of the small bed. For the first time Frodo showed interest, dark brows quirking and eyes traveling to the large bed where his friends were now watching fearfully.
The Elf-lord addressed them. “You may stay where you are, but Master Frodo will remain here – alone – in this bed until his fever goes down. He will rest the better for the peace. I will also ask you to remain quiet and stay in that bed. If you do not,” and here the Elf-lord paused and noted with satisfaction the almost imperceptible cringing of his patients, “I will be forced to administer some of my more unpleasant remedies to encourage sleep.”
Hastily reassured of the halflings’ obedience, Elrond departed. Merry sighed and scooted back under the warm covers. “It’s going to be a long day,” he observed to the world at large.
“When is second-breakfast?” asked Pippin in the silence that followed.
* * * * *
Not only were the hobbits ordered to stay in bed, but they soon discovered that Lord Elrond had curtailed their visitors. An Elf standing at the door ensured this. They heard familiar voices in the corridor, but all guests with the exception of Gandalf and Aragorn were denied admittance. Glorfindel’s clear tones pealed in the hallway and their hearts leaped hopefully, but the Elf-lord too was sent packing. Bilbo was allowed to enter only briefly, and with a finger to his lips, the old hobbit silently doled out several more books he had selected for them. Their mournful eyes followed him to the door. The hobbits sighed and settled down to a reluctant nap.
Frodo was already asleep. He had shown them how he truly felt by curling up into a ball with his back to them and falling asleep almost immediately after Elrond’s departure. The others stayed quiet for his sake, and because their heads ached abominably. Until almost luncheon, the only sounds in the quiet room were drifting strains of birdsong and occasional sneezes and coughs.
* TBC *