1. Watching and Waiting
SR 1419, April 2nd. Late evening, Ithilien.
Aragorn stood looking down on the sleeping hobbits, his own weariness evident in the slump of his shoulders. The ragged, dark head drooped. After a few moments, the Captain of the Host of the West surrendered to his fatigue, lowering himself stiffly onto a rough stool near the foot of the beds. He sat, head in hands, watching Sam and Frodo, and waiting.
Seven days had passed since the Ringbearer and his companion were brought out of the flaming wreck of Orodruin by Gwaihir and his brothers, and the days in that seemingly endless week had been filled with many concerns. The servants of the Enemy had not all been vanquished in the fall of the Dark Tower, and the men in the Host looked now to Aragorn for command in all matters; plus there were many hurt who needed his healing touch. Yet, ever and anon, his mind strayed back to these two small creatures without whom the battle would have meant nothing. After the first day, when he barely left their sides, Aragorn had spent the first and last of his waking hours in this quiet tent set off to the side of the camp.
Flickers of memory played across the weather-beaten face as he kept his silent vigil. It seemed only moments since he, Legolas and Gimli, waiting anxiously by the chasm that had once been the dreadful Gate, saw the Eagles appear out of the mirk which hung over Mordor. Incredulous joy had blossomed in their hearts as Frodo and Sam were placed tenderly on the ground. A hint of a smile tickled the corners of Aragorn's mouth as he remembered the Eagles' feather-light grip on the limp bodies; the powerful talons had seemed impossibly gentle, more akin to a lover's caress.
Beyond hope or belief, the hobbits had escaped the storm of torturous destruction that followed Sauron's demise. But the joy at their return had rapidly faded to fear and anguish as the remaining members of the Fellowship saw the state of their friends. Frodo's bloodied and maimed right hand; the ugly gash on Sam's forehead, with a recently blackened eye below it; their parched skin and cracked lips; and, beneath the layers of ash and grime, the bruises and scrapes of many long miles of toil. Perhaps the worst shock was how thin they had become, especially Sam. That alone spoke of the hardships the hobbits had endured. Aragorn had no doubt that both had suffered greatly – Frodo worn down by the burden of the Ring, and Sam by his care for the master he loved, for whom he had obviously stinted himself of water and food.
"What a feast we shall have for you when you wake, dear Samwise," murmured Aragorn's low voice. "You shall never be hungry again, at least not while you are in this Ranger's care." He fell back into silence as the warm night air embraced them. Aragorn had done everything in his power to tend them, calling them back to the light as he had Merry and others. Daily he blessed the fair woods of Ithilien, and thanked the Valar for the healing herbs found near this camp at the Field of Cormallen. In truth, the hobbits' physical wounds were not great, save Frodo's missing finger and all had been quickly and easily treated. Gandalf also had done what he could for them, placing his hand on the furrowed brows and murmuring soothing words, which even Aragorn could not discern, though he suspected they were more endearments than powerful spells.
So now Frodo and Sam slept, and there was nothing more he, or any of them, could do, but wait for the hobbits to wake. And the waiting seemed interminable. Always someone was with them, usually a member of the Fellowship. Gimli and Legolas were loath to leave their sides and Gandalf frequently found reason to come by their tent, despite the need for his wise input into many deeds and decisions. All were content that the Ringbearers be cared for by their companions; the Gondorian healers, while skilled and dedicated, were few. These two were not the only wounded and many men also needed the healers' attention.
And not only men. Even as he gazed solemnly at Frodo and Sam, Aragorn's thoughts turned to Pippin, who also lay abed in a nearby tent. The plucky young hobbit had been seriously injured when the troll he killed had crushed him. Gimli found him all but dead the day after Sam and Frodo were rescued. Pippin had woken a couple of days ago and though one leg would take some time to fully heal, he was already fretting to visit the other hobbits, persistently assuring Aragorn that he was on the mend. This at least was some comfort to those that kept vigil with Sam and Frodo.
For all was not well in the tent where the future King now sat. A heaviness lay on the hobbits that the visible wounds could not account for. At whiles a shadow would pass over Frodo's scarred and sunken face and he would flinch, or cry out, the memory of what dreadful torment of body and soul Aragorn could only imagine. His heart ached within him to see Frodo's pain, and he railed at his powerlessness to ease it. In such moments Sam would stir from his own uneasy rest and reach out for Frodo, though neither of them surfaced to full wakefulness.
Aragorn's reverie was broken by the touch of a small hand on his shoulder.
"Strider?" said a timid voice.
Turning, he saw the face of Meriadoc, framed in light brown curls, peering anxiously at him. The supply ships that had sailed up river from Osgiliath had arrived some hours earlier, at which time Aragorn had been away from the camp with a scouting party. Merry, for his part, had hurried first to Pippin's tent, so Aragorn had not as yet greeted the new arrival.
"Aragorn?" the hobbit asked again, "Is everything all right?"
Before Aragorn had time even to consider a suitable reply to this immense question, Merry became aware of the figures in the beds, and with a strangled cry rushed forward to throw himself at Frodo's side.
"Gently now, Master Meriadoc! Don't disturb their hard-earned rest if you can help it."
"But…," gulped the distraught hobbit, "they look so … weak and lost and sad." And with that Merry burst into tears, burying his face in the bedclothes.
Aragorn rose slowly from his stool and moved down the small space between the beds to sit on the edge of Sam's. Reaching out he rested his hand, gently but firmly, on Merry's shoulder as the small frame shook with sobs. Soon the sandy head lifted.
"Will they be all right?" Merry sniffled. "It seems Pippin was dreadfully hurt, but at least he's awake and talking about food." Aragorn smiled to himself at the mention of this definitive measure of hobbit health.
"Strider," the anxious voice went on, "What is wrong with cousin Frodo, and poor Sam? I thought the darkness had passed when the Ring was destroyed."
"I think, Merry, they are simply exhausted, but I do not know for certain. Yes, a great darkness has passed from the world, but the hurts it caused cannot all be put right in a day, or a week, or maybe even a year. You can be sure that these two brave fellows have been treated with the greatest love since they were returned to us, and everything we can do to ease them has been done. It may be that all they need is time to rest."
Aragorn sighed and continued softly, as if to himself, "Though, it troubles me also to see them so weak ... and distant. Perhaps they will be less lost and sad now one of their kin is here beside them. I believe they need that as much as any treatment I can offer."
Lifting his head he spoke again directly to Merry. "Will you sit with them a while? I know you are worried for Pippin, and want to be near him, but it may help to spend some time in this tent also. I hope they will wake in a few more days, but in the meantime all we can do is wait and watch."
"Of course! They should not be alone," said Merry firmly, wiping his eyes one last time. "I can be here when Legolas and Gimli are not, and Pippin will sit with them too, as soon as he is able. He will be up and about soon, won't he?"
Aragorn nodded. "I hope so, although not too soon. Hobbits are remarkably resilient creatures, but he was 'dreadfully hurt', as you put it. Very well, if you will stay here for now, I will go take such rest as I may. Do not stay all night Merry. You were hurt yourself, not so very long ago, and it is good to see you 'up and about' at least. I will ask our noble dwarf to relieve you in a couple of hours. I don't need another sick hobbit to care for! I will look in on these dear ones again first thing in the morning."
Before departing Aragorn helped Merry move the stool between the beds within reach of the two curly heads. Glancing back from the entrance he saw Merry holding Frodo's bandaged hand gingerly in his own right one – the hand of his injured sword arm. With his left hand Merry was reaching out to brush the shaggy locks back from Sam's swollen eyes. Both sleeping hobbits looked more peaceful than Aragorn had yet seen them, and he breathed a soft sigh as he stepped out into the starry fragrant evening.
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.