ESCAPE THE DARKNESS - Chapter 1 by JULES
Herbs and Stewed Rabbits
Strider heard a multitude of sharp gasps and grunts as he pursued the four tumbling and rolling hobbits down the embankment. He had to slow his own pace on a couple of occasions to prevent loosing his own footing on the shale covered lope.
The ground was quite hard and only small, idle tufts of grass to cushion the hobbits as they cart-wheeled over and over again. The Ranger was not able to distinctly see which hobbit was in front or behind the group.
Frodo and Sam had certainly been at the front when Merry and Pippin had struck them from behind as they ran out of the cornfields.
Now it seemed that Merry was ahead of his dark-haired cousin, Frodo. Strider could see that Frodo was now at the rear of the group. That left Sam and Pippin somewhere in between.
The tumbling and spiralling was brought to an abrupt end as the ravine suddenly came to an end. There was a sizeable fall from the over hang to the roadway below.
Merry landed with a great thud, but a loud gasp of air was driven from his lungs as PippinÂ’s small frame landed awkwardly on his mid-section.
Sam now following, trying to avoid the two other hobbits as much as possible, but still landing sprawled amidst legs and arms.
Frodo was indeed the last, and could not escape the hobbit pile, finding himself toppled on top of Sam. He was on his back, but looked a little dazed and shaken. His eyes were wide, still contemplating what had just befallen
Â“Are you alright, Mr. Frodo?Â” Sam asked, from somewhere beneath the pile of limbs. He was pushing aside the weight on top of him until he heard the owner speak, realising that he was roughly shoving his master and not Merry or Pippin.
Â“I think so, Sam,Â” Frodo answered in a shaky voice. Â“I am sorry I landed on you so hard,Â” Frodo said as he found himself sitting on the damp ground, but holding out his hand and offering it to his friend.
Strider reached Merry and Pippin and help them to their feet first, already hearing Frodo and Sam exchanging words. The two cousins seemed shocked to say the least. Neither of them had spoken yet, trying to take stock of their hurts and trying to pull themselves up from their most embarrassing position.
Â“DonÂ’t be sorry, Mr. Frodo. I am much sturdier than you. That little tumble didnÂ’t do me no harm,Â” he offered, wincing a little at a bruise that had formed on his upper arm, no doubt coming from a wayward hobbit foot.
Â“Are you two sure that you are not hurt?Â” Strider asked Merry and Pippin, kneeling in front of the smaller two and watching their faces for any signs of hiding discomfort or pain. They seemed to be speaking the truth, though Pippin looked a little paler than normal.
Â“What about you, Frodo and Sam? Frodo, I saw you rubbing at your ankle just before you all fell. Let me take a look at it now,Â” the Ranger instructed.
Â“It was hurting a little before, but it is nothing too bad,Â” Frodo said, knowing that they couldnÂ’t delay their journey each time his ankle became a little cumbersome. In truth he had felt it twinge a little at the top of the ravine, but he would have to bear it until nightfall and when they were a little safer from where they stood now.
Strider seemed to read FrodoÂ’s thoughts a little and although he sympathized with the hobbit, upon examination, the ankle had not suffered any further swelling. He would soak it when they made camp and rewrap it in athelas soaked bandages.
Â“Mushrooms!Â” Pippin declared, dashing off with Merry quickly following to the delicious patch that the young hobbit had spotted. They had only gone 20 metres and were considered in no imminent danger at present.
Frodo got to his feet with StriderÂ’s help and began walking a few steps on his ankle to see how it faired. His concentration was distracted by a sudden gasp by Sam as he bent down to pick up his dishevelled backpack. The stout hobbit had grasped at his upper arm in pain that resulted from lifting the heavy laden pack.
Â“What is it, Sam?Â” Frodo asked worriedly, beside his friend in a moment and trying to get Sam to lift his sleeve up and reveal the cause of his pain.
Â“’Tis nothing to worry about, Mr. Frodo,Â” Sam said, very appreciative of the concern that his master was showering on him, but a little shy when admitting that he was hurt.
Strider smiled and noted that it seemed he had at least one more hobbit than Frodo who denied when he was hurt. The ranger came to help. Â“I will take care of Sam, Frodo,Â” he offered.
Frodo nodded his head in agreement, seeing that Sam was uneasy about having being fussed about for a minor injury. He resumed his walking to test his ankle while the ranger examined SamÂ’s arm.
The hobbitÂ’s concentration was currently focused on the floor of the forested road, and his feet. The air was mild, perhaps a little warmer due to the thick coverage of canopy.
When questioned on his feelings and observations about this day at a much later time, Frodo would at recall that he deemed there to be no difference in their passage out of the Shire so far.
The road itself was hard, but softened in a flood of colour by the falling leaves that continued to rain down upon the forest floor, leaving an endless blanket behind.
Almost every hue possible could be distinguished, from dirty browns towards the bottom, to warm reds and yellows mixed together, signally the duration of the season.
Fall was definitely FrodoÂ’s favourite time of the year. Here Mother Nature spoke of life regeneration and a time of change for all living things. The trees shed their leaves, eager to have the last of their opened seed pods distributed upon the wind or by hungry insects or birds.
The months grew cooler, making it necessary to use a coat or blanket, but warmth could also be found by watching the animals scurrying about for last minute food storage before the colder months arrived.
Frodo looked to where his two cousins were busily discussing the finer art of which mushroom belonged to whom. Just a few metres beyond them, the terrain became more dense and wooded.
Even the ravine they had just tumbled down was shaded by an avenue of trees. The canopy was very thick and little sunlight penetrated to the
The embankment was shrouded in sapling trees, no more than a year old, showing again the life cycle that carried on despite the change in season.
Frodo swallowed and gave silent thanks to the fact that were they had fallen down the ravine was mostly void of such vegetation. Had any of them had the misfortune of travelling through the younger trees, any one or all of them could have been more seriously hurt.
It was neither tree, bird, animal or any other living creature that made him stand dead still on that road. All at once, his senses were alerted to some unknown threat that seemed to be coming towards them. Briefly looking over and his cousins and then Strider and Sam, Frodo noted that his companions had yet to sense any danger
Description of the feeling that crept up on him was impossible, even if he could find the correct words. He took two cautious steps forward, as if not wanting to make any sound that would alert their presence to whatever was nearing.
Frodo shivered violently as though someoneÂ’s icy cold hand had run down the back of his spine. He went to pull his jacket around his shoulders tighter as if the drop in temperature was atmospheric. Unfortunately it was not, and the hobbitÂ’s brow
turned into a slight frown as stared out towards the avenue of trees a few metres away.
Strider had just finished tending to SamÂ’s arm when he noticed the hesitant, almost timid steps from Frodo. He followed the hobbitÂ’s line of sight, curious to know what kept FrodoÂ’s avid attention.
FrodoÂ’s body language told the Ranger that the hobbit was fearful of something. Â“Frodo?Â” he said softly, not wanting to heighten the fear. He could tell by the hobbitÂ’s stance that this fear was different from that he had witnessed in the cornfields due to the ferocious barking from Farmer MaggotÂ’s hounds.
Frodo bowed his head for a moment and clutched a hand over the pocket of his weskit were the ring was hidden. His eyes were closed and his lips pouted as if mumbling a small word or two.
For Frodo himself, it seemed that the ring had almost came into being an entity all of its own. He knew how incredulous it seemed, but for a brief second, the ring was heavier or at least felt like it had an invisible energy attached to it.
Just when he tried to berate himself for being foolish, he thought he heard a voice call out. Not to him specifically, but to the ring. And as impossible as he thought it, the ring returned some sort of response to the voice.
Frodo jerked his head up violently at the voice he could hear in the distance. Â´It grew closer and closer, but continued to call out as though a beacon. Through the avenue of trees and the dense canopy, a chill wind blew. The leaves lying on the ground were hurled and tossed around in the gust only to be caught up in the swirl again before coming to rest and blowing around again.
There was an eerily pale light coming through the trees, signalling the nearing of the threat and the growing danger he and his companions were in. The chilly wind continued to blow about, flapping the tail of his cloak as though it had long, spindly
Not only could Frodo see the gust of wind getting stronger and the luminous quality of the light getting stronger, but he felt a shadow darkening over his heart and mind.
Â“Get off the road, quick!Â” Frodo announced, making sure that his two cousins ran to safety before him.
Strider noted the urgency in the hobbitÂ’s voice, and could sense the arrival of evil to the forest. He knew of the cause and wanted to desperately shield these gentle creatures from such abject horror and macabre nature of what they were trying to hide from.
In fear for the smaller hobbits, Strider threw caution to the wind and with two large steps, gathered Merry and Pippin under each arm. The hobbits had let go a squeak at having their feet suddenly loose contact with the ground, they struggled for a second or so, only too aware of the strangulating grip the Ranger had around their middles.
With a hobbit under each arm, Strider made to cross the roadway into the thicker forested area that Frodo had sought. Â“Sam, grab the packs,Â” the Ranger said, not wanting to leave any sign of them having been there.
Â“Right you are,Â” Sam said, and made a hap-hazard gathering of Merry and PippinÂ’s belongings and Mr. Frodo, sure that he would have used more care if they could spare the time. For the moment, Sam was too concerned with keeping track of where his master was.
Frodo and Strider had scrambled over the protruding roots of a large tree near the roadway.Â´There was a small cavern space underneath provided by the root for Frodo and Sam to conceal themselves under.
Strider could not fit though and there was no time to let Merry or Pippin down from his grasp. The Ranger was forced to hide the hobbits on the other side of the large root structure. He did his best to use his well-worn cloak to disguise his presence, leaving only his eyes free to observe the approaching foe.
Merry and Pippin were well hidden under the root of the tree, and had the added advantage of Strider lying almost invisibly alongside to conceal them further. Sam had tried to ensure that his master was hidden the very best they could.
At the moment though, all of FrodoÂ’s thoughts seemed to be concentrated on the voice he could hear and the ring. He wasnÂ’t conscious of SamÂ’s worried looks or attempts to shield him further with his cloak like the ranger.
Frodo looked up at an awkward angle through a narrow gap in the roots. His hands trembled slightly from fear, and he nervously wrung them together over and over again.
Sam was loath to spoil the cloak he wore any more than he had to. It was the one Frodo had given him as a present before they left the Shire and Bag End. He would not like to see it fall to ruin so soon on their journey. He was trying to brush a few stray leaves that had tangled in the fine material when he noticed how bad Frodo was trembling and how frightened he was. He took his masterÂ’s hand in his and tried to give what comfort and support he could, not able to deny that he was any less afraid.
Pippin tried his best to look over to where Sam and Frodo were hidden, but a firm hold on him from the Ranger, prevented the young hobbit from doing so. His curiosity didnÂ’t last long though, as his whole body began to tremble from the sound of the approaching foe.
As the evilness came closer, it could be distinguished in the form of horseÂ’s hooves clopping along the leaf littered roadway above. Any breeze that had been present now stopped, as if the very forest itself held its breath for what was to come.
The horse, snorting and bucking as it bore its rider closer and closer to were the man and four hobbits concealed themselves. For a brief moment, it appeared they might be spared the horror of the black rider. That glimmer of hope was quickly
snuffed out however, when the horse made another noise, stopping from going any further.
Sam had grown up around horses for most of his life in Hobbiton. Whilst he didnÂ’t claim himself to be an expert of any kind, there was something macabre about this animal that caused him to think that the rider was being carried by no living
Whilst they had heard its approach, the horse wheezed and snorted as though an animal writhing in the grips of failing lungs. If the hobbits had been able to get a closer look at the poor beast, they would have seen it shy away from its blackÂ´cloaked rider, almost in fear as they were.
The Ringwraith bent the animalÂ’s will to do his bidding, in doing so, trapping its soul and drawing out of the horse anything living or resembling life. From where Sam could see up through the twisted root of the tree where he and Frodo hid themselves, he could see the horseÂ’s hooves shot in heavy, thick shoes.
Crude and harsh nails held the metal in place under the hoof. The bridle and reins were made of a thick, course black leather. The saddle, fitting the animal well, bore the heavy weight of the Ringwraith. Armour plated boots and gloves increased the load on the animalÂ’s back.
Without realising it, Sam had released his hold on FrodoÂ’s hands whilst looking up at the rider and beast above. The fear inside the hobbits growing with each second. The horse had stopped and the rider dismounted, the iron clad boots clashing loudly on the ground as it stepped to approach where they were hidden.
The cloaked figure sniffed at the air, as though he were seeking something by scent. It was only the Ranger who knew of this method used by the servants of Sauron.
Everything around them appeared to grow still as though the presence of the Ringwraith caused a great void in the fabric of life.
Something happened at that very moment, that caused Frodo to become aware for the first time that the Â‘ringÂ’ had a life force all of its own. He had heard Gandalf talk about the ring and its power over those it sought to corrupt or destroy. But never, until now had he actually felt its power.
The ring called out to him. There was no other rational explanation. Frodo looked over at Sam to see if he could hear the voice speaking, but his sandy-haired friend now held still with his eyes shut tight, trying to avoid the evil that was trying to find
Frodo looked down at the ring, its voice a little more than a hum in his ear. It spoke threateningly, telling Frodo of darkness to come and of evil that could not be suppressed or held back.
The hum began to grow louder, until it was like a roaring echo in his mind. Frodo eyes had grown wide at the voice upon first hearing it, but now he tried to close them and shut out the echo that plagued him.
Frodo could still feel the Ringwraith searching for the ring. The sniffing became more insistent, and the cloaked figure growing ever so close. The dark-haired hobbit looked up through the twist of root and swallowed hard at the sight above.
Without warning, the Ringwraith threw itself along the ground, trying to peer over the twisted section of root, knowing that what he sought was very close.
Frodo closed his own eyes against the force of the voice that still spoke to him. It was urging him to put on the ring, and the harder he fought to resist such a command, the weaker he seemed to become. Without realising what he was doing, and his companions not aware of what called out to him, Frodo withdrew the small piece of gold band from his vest pocket.
The gold of the band sparkled in the darkness, almost like a beacon. The voice was still insisting for him to put the ring on, Frodo now holding out a trembling hand, his finger travelling towards it as if to slid it onto his index finger.
Strider knew that if they were going to escape the clutches of the Ringwraith, then he would have to cause a distraction to divert the creatureÂ’s attention. Long enough for him to help the hobbits further into the forest and away from danger.
Feeling around the immediate area with his hand, not daring to move to suddenly as to alert his presence to the Ringwraith, he sought something to cause the distraction. He sighed inwardly as his fingers came across a thick branch of a tree.
For a brief moment, he caught the eyes of Merry and Pippin, giving them a stare to indicate what he intended to do. With a brief move of his head, the two hobbits understood that they would have to run from their hiding place as soon as the Ranger made his move.
There was no way to warn Sam or Frodo of what was about to take place. The Ranger had to rely on them following behind once they had enough of a chance away from their pursuer. With all of the strength that he held in one arm, Strider now tossed the branch low and hard away from the tree and the hobbits.
The desired reaction was achieved with the Ringwraith whirling around at the sound some distance behind and immediately heading that way to investigate the source.
Â“Now!Â” Strider whispered to Merry and Pippin. Pushing the two hobbits out from their hiding place and urging them down the embankment in front of them and further into the trees. The trees grew more denser in this direction and hopefully their direction of travel would be concealed and muffled by the layers of leaves underfoot. The leavesÂ´in this area of the forest were dampened and sodden, allowing for quieter movement.
Sam opened his eyes, looking sideways at his master and instantly becoming alarmed at what he saw. He heard Strider whisper something to Master Merry and Pippin. Although he couldnÂ’t hear what had been said, the trio now moved away from their hiding place and knew he must help Frodo to do the same.
Â“Come on, Mr. Frodo,Â” Sam encouraged, placing his hands over those of his master. Sam frowned and thought he had caused his master pain when Frodo seemed to yelp in fright at his touch. He saw the ring in his masterÂ’s hand but didnÂ’t know why his master would bring the devilish thing out in the open at such a time.
FrodoÂ’s eyes opened as he came out of his trance-like state and he looked about in confusion to see SamÂ’s urgent face in front of him. He wanted to tell his friend about the strange desire he had felt, but at the moment, with the Ringwraith still so close, there was no time.
Still clasping the ring in the palm of his hand, Frodo quickly went with Sam and followed the Ranger and his cousins down the embankment towards the thicker canopy of the trees.
For what seemed like hours, but was probably only twenty minutes at the most, the Ranger led the hobbits into the thicker forest of trees, hoping to gain some distance between themselves and the Ringwraith. He knew they wouldnÂ’t stop their search for the ring.
The hobbits seemed too afraid of what followed to ask what it was or its purpose. A detailed explanation would have to wait until safer havens could be sought before nightfall.
After a time, the Ranger changed positions within the group, preferring to be guiding the hobbits from behind. This would protect the smaller folk should something be still pursuing them from the trees. His skills of tracking should alert him to any
potential danger before the hobbits could come to any harm.
Strider reminded himself that the most important thing next to fleeing was keeping the hobbits together. Should one or more of them become separated from the group, the consequences could be dire. A lone hobbit would be an easier target to capture. There was safety in numbers at this point in time. And with Frodo being the ring-bearer, the need to keep him close for protection was even greater.
Frodo lagged behind on a few occasions due to his ankle protesting at the rapid pace of their travel. Sam had paused and urged his master onwards as best he could, knowing that Frodo sought answers to many questions in his head.
Â“Are you alright, Mr. Frodo?Â” Sam asked a third time in as many minutes, noting his masterÂ’s grimace from his injured ankle. What he failed to see was that Frodo had concealed both hands under the folds of his cloak. One hand still held the Â‘one
ringÂ’. The other was now red and had a painful stinging sensation that he had noticed shortly after leaving the safety of the tree.
Â“Perfectly fine, Sam, thank you,Â” Frodo said with a smile to ease his friendÂ’s worry. Strider saw from behind that the hobbitÂ’s step had become deliberate and slow, indicating that it was taking all of FrodoÂ’s concentration. He knew any offer of
carrying the injured hobbit would be frowned at immediately and refused.
A reassuring smile from the Ranger to Sam, told the stout hobbit that he was watching for any signs that his master might falter. With their unexpected escape through the denser parts of the forest, their route of travel had changed dramatically. Although they headed in this direction to seek sanctuary from one danger, there was no way of telling if there were any further ahead.
Sam seemed to relax a little at the RangerÂ’s gesture, trying to hide his concern for Frodo and directing some of his attention to his masterÂ’s kin, who were equally afraid of the new surroundings. Mr. Merry had tried to hide his fear by telling a joke, but had stopped mid-sentence, the emphasis of the punch line being lost as the canopy grew darker and eerier.
Â“I think we have enough distance between us to slow down a little,Â” Strider said to the group, still advising that they all needed to be vigilant. Merry and Pippin were very glad to take heed of the RangerÂ’s words and slumped down on some moss
covered rocks almost as soon as the offer was made. Running from evil or danger seemed to have a tiredness all of its own attached to it and a burden that none of them wished to bear any further than they must.
Sam handed out two of the water skins, but when it came to offering to his master, found that Frodo would allow himself the luxury of sitting down and resting. Too many thoughts plagued his mind, and the sound of the ring still echoed within his mind.
Frodo stood a few feet away from the group, and carefully opened the palm of his hand, revealing the ring. Innocent and plain looking as it lay against his skin, but at the same time telling the hobbit of many hidden secrets and a dark history that shrouded its true intentions.
Sam walked over to his master, careful not to startle him, but frowning at the confusion
and fear that he saw so nakedly displayed on his friendÂ’s face. FrodoÂ’s brow furrowed deep as he tried to recall what he had experienced under the tree. He knew that there was very little benefit by telling Strider of what happened. There were no words, only strange feelings that he doubted anyone else would understand.
Â“Frodo?Â” Sam said softly, growing more worried as his hazel eyes were met by the fearful blues ones of his master.
Â“Yes please, Sam,Â” Frodo said, carefully covering the expression that Sam had clearly seen, Â“I would like a drink of water.Â” He put the ring back into the breast pocket of his vest, trying to put the whole incident behind him. He couldnÂ’t deny the odd warm ring in the palm of his hand where the ring had rested briefly.
Â“How much further do we need to travel today, Strider?Â” Frodo asked, attempting to focus his attention on more pressing and current concerns. He took a long, grateful drink from the water skin, but closed his eyes in a grimace as he drank, noting that the stinging sensation in his hand was steadily growing worse.
The skin of his right hand felt a little warm, even though still wrapped with a corner of his cloak. With the Ranger and Sam watching his every move at present, he was not able to steal a look at the hand to see what caused the discomfort. He vaguely recalled something touching his hand a second before Sam was urging him to run.
Without drawing too much attention to himself, he poured a small amount of water from the pouch as though spilling it accidentally. He gave a small inward sigh of relief at the cool, wet fabric over his hand. Frodo now quickly gave the skin back
to Sam and apologized for his clumsy efforts and wasting the precious contents.
Â“If you are able to, I would like to travel a few more miles today, Frodo. Those that pursue us may have lost our trail for a time, and with any luck, we can stop them from following us any further. Our new course may take a day or so longer to travel, but it will offer safety beneath the trees and provide protection from the heat of the
Â“I am quite able to continue, Strider,Â” Frodo returned, a little sternness to his voice, not
wanting to admit any weakness. His cousins were in too much danger yet to consider his own well-being. His ankle, although tender to walk upon, would hold up sufficiently until they found somewhere to rest for the night. Somewhere they could enjoy a hot meal and forget about the events of the day with a tale or a song and some
much needed sleep before continuing the journey onwards the following day.
Â“Do you know where we are?Â” Merry asked, not wanting to sound rude, but noting that they had weaved in and out of the trees for quite some distance since the roadway. To get lost now would only prove to delay them further.
Merry was under no misconceptions that Frodo was in some sort of danger and he aimed to protect his older cousin as best he could. He promised same for Pippin, who, although afraid, might not fully understand the peril they were beginning to face. Pippin had spoken briefly as they continued through the trees, but his subdued mood now sitting upon the rocks.
Â“Yes, Merry, I have travelled these areas around the Shire for many years before now. Although the change in direction is regretful, for now it is wise. We still have a long way to go to Bree where we are to meet up with Gandalf. I estimate that the change in our path may add as much as two or three days to the journey,Â” Strider explained.
The group set out after the brief stop, the pace a little slower and allowing them to take in a few more landmarks and gain a little more familiarity of the terrain as they walked.
True to his word, Strider called the group to stop for the evening after 5 miles. The sky had already begun to grow darker and they needed to make camp for the night and gather fire wood before all remaining light was lost to them.
Merry and Pippin were assigned the task of collecting the wood, but were warned to stay within a two metre radius of the campsite. The growing shadows of early evening kept them to this promise, the two hobbits not wanting to leave each otherÂ’s side or wander far from the light and warmth of the fire.
Sam went about cooking a hot meal for all, and was grateful of the RangerÂ’s hunting skills as two plump rabbits were placed at his disposal. Soon, an appetising aroma of stew permeated from the small cook pot as Sam continued to stir and add seasoning as required.
Frodo sat with his back leaning against a large tree, only a short distance from the fire. A cool breeze seemed to blow through his clothes, though he couldnÂ’t be certain that it was the exterior elements that caused this. It was becoming more and more difficult to conceal the injury to his hand and he could no longer deny that there was something wrong.
For the last five miles of their journey, his right hand had throbbed mercilessly and there was now a definite heat present. The skin felt tight and dry, though he had not yet dared to look at it for any length of time. A brief glance as they walked had revealed two small white dots that were now raised and noticeable. What had made such a mark he couldnÂ’t be sure.
Aragorn had noted FrodoÂ’s discontentment before arriving at the campsite, while he put most of it down to the appearance of the Ringwraith, there was something in the hobbitÂ’s eyes that caused him to believe there was an additional cause to his withdrawn and sullen mood.
Perhaps his ankle was still a source of pain and it was that theory that led Strider to approach the hobbit. Â“How is your ankle, Frodo?Â” he asked, bending down and gently feeling the exposed skin before the hobbit had a chance to voice any words of protest.
Merry and Pippin had returned with an armful of firewood each and were now asking Sam if he needed any help, but curiously looking over at Frodo and the Ranger to get a whisper of what was transpiring between them.
Â“It was a little tender before, but it seems a little better now, thank you,Â” Frodo said, unable to stop a gasp of pain after he spoke. Strider took the exclamation of pain to come as a result of his inspection of FrodoÂ’s ankle. He briefly returned to his own pack to seek some medicinal herbs.
While Strider searched for the correct herbs, Sam thought it a prudent time to offer Frodo a meal. Hopefully under the RangerÂ’s watchful eye, his master would eat, while his ankle was being tended to.
Â“Here you go, Mr. Frodo,Â” he said, trying to sound as cheerful as possible. He held out the plate with a small serving of stew, hoping Frodo wouldnÂ’t object to such a small helping. There would be plenty more if he wanted it.
Frodo had certainly not forgotten about the pain in his hand, but instinctively unwrapped his right hand from his cloak to take the plate from Sam. It wasnÂ’t until he touched the surface of the plate that he recoiled, holding the hand against his chest and closing his eyes, waiting for the pain to abate a little.
Sam had heard his masterÂ’s gasp of pain and saw him clutch his hand to his chest. It was the first time that the sandy-haired hobbit had seen the swollen red hand and with a gasp of alarm of his own, dropped the hot plate of food in the dirt as he reached out to try and help Frodo.
Frodo reclined his head back against the tree with his eyes closed, and therefore could no longer deny what his friends where seeing. Merry and Pippin now stood behind Sam and looked just as worried at the sight of FrodoÂ’s hand. None of them could remember him hurting it today and he had not mentioned his discomfort to any of them.
Â“Mr. Strider, come and look at this, quick!Â” Sam said urgently, but there was no need as the Ranger had sensed something wrong when Frodo cried out.
Strider gestured for the other hobbits to stand a little to the side, to allow him a better look at Frodo. His eyes remained closed, but he did not sleep. He heard the voices of concern and had somehow resolved himself to getting a tongue lashing for hiding his pain. At the moment he didnÂ’t care, he just wanted the stinging to stop.
The Ranger knelt before the hobbit, taking in the pallor of his face and the slight sweatiness of his brow. As carefully as he dared, he reached out with a gentle hand and tried to probe the cause of the swelling to FrodoÂ’s right hand. The hand itself
appeared very angry and red. The skin was hot to the touch, but the heat was isolated to that area only.
Strider placed two fingertips near the two white raised marks, and apologized deeply as Frodo recoiled his hand away even more, trying to stop the examination by hiding it back underneath his cloak. The ranger would have none of it though and knew that whatever amount of pain was being caused now was for a good purpose. He had to establish the cause of the swelling.
Merry and Pippin grew closer to their cousinÂ’s side, Sam on the other, all of them whispering to Frodo that they were there to help him. Sam held FrodoÂ’s left hand in his own as the Ranger continued his diagnosis.
Â“You have been bitten, Frodo,Â” Strider stated, drawing a gasp from both Pippin and Sam. Merry looked as equally concerned, but was also curious as to how the Ranger was able to detect that Frodo had been bitten.
Â“By what, Strider?Â” Merry asked. Sam wasnÂ’t overly fond of bugs or crawling creatures but was happy to let them exist in their own world, so long as they didnÂ’t bother him. Pippin on the other hand, hated bugs and things that slithered about. He had caused many a dramatic performance in Tuckborough when his fear became known to one of his older sisters. She took no time in reminding him of that fear, on a weekly basis.
Â“Difficult to tell. But it probably happened some hours ago judging by the amount of swelling and the heat generated under the skin,Â” Strider explained. Â“It would have been easier to treat as soon as Frodo noticed the inflammation and pain.Â” Frodo didnÂ’t give any indication that he had heard any of the RangerÂ’s words.
Strider knew there was no benefit to be gained in chastising the hobbit for his self-neglect. He knew there were dark thoughts plaguing him. He could also see the worry and distress of FrodoÂ’s kin and Sam. Â“Sam, is there any hot water left from supper?Â”
Â“Aye, Mr. Strider, some,Â” Sam replied. Â“What do you want with that?Â”
Â“Have a look in my pack over by the tree, you will find some long strips of fabric that can be used as bandages. Pour half hot water to cold into a basin and allow the bandages to soak up the tepid water,Â” the Ranger explained. Â“Pippin, I need you also to go to my pack and retrieve a small circular jar with a wax seal on it.Â”
Strider couldnÂ’t be sure if Frodo was hearing his words or not, but he explained what was going to happen. Â“I will rub a small amount of a soothing salve on your hand. That should help take the heat away from the bite area and help counteract the stinging sensation you are no doubt experiencing.Â”
Frodo did open his eyes, lifting his head forward and trying to focus on what the Ranger was saying to him. Â“And after that?Â” came the brief question in a whispered voice.
The Ranger smiled at having a partially awake audience. He hoped that FrodoÂ’s hurts could be tended to and then the hobbit have a light supper before slipping into a healing slumber.
Â“I will add a healing herb to the warm water to be absorbed by the bandages. They should also aid in the healing process. By morning, you should suffer limited effects from the toxin that was used,Â” Strider proceeded to answer.
Whilst the Ranger tended to FrodoÂ’s injured hand, Sam had tried to keep Merry and Pippin occupied as best he could with helping to serve the stew. Sam carefully washed FrodoÂ’s soiled plate and then refilled it with a small amount of hot, nourishing stew. He also split a small round loaf of crusty bread into smaller portions for each of them.
Â“That is helping immensely, Strider,Â” Frodo said as he drew a long sigh at the cool ointment being gently massaged on and around the surface of his hand. The heat underneath his hand was beginning to ease, allowing his own bodyÂ’s to do some of the work. The bandages were soothing and cool, relieving the stinging sensation.
Â“You are most welcome, Frodo,Â” Strider responded, relieved that the remedy was helping the hobbit. Â“I hope in the future you will share your troubles with your companions.Â”
The statement was to serve a dual purpose. First to allow Frodo become more comfortable with the RangerÂ’s healing abilities. And secondly, a reminder that they needed to work as a team on this journey for the good of the entire group.
Â“I am sorry that I tried to keep it to myself,Â” Frodo said with guilt colouring his cheeks a little. Inwardly, Frodo was berating himself. He would never expect Pippin or Merry to keep any hurts or illness to themselves and would give them a stern argument if they attempted to.
He was older and should be setting the example. Pippin, he was quite sure wouldnÂ’t hide any pain, but Merry was another matter entirely. There were a few traits that the two cousins shared that others probably wished they didnÂ’t. Merry could be quite secretive if he so chose to be.
His eyes focused away from the Ranger, but his mind still fully on the journey ahead. Â“Evil hunts us Strider, I can feel it,Â” he whispered, so as Sam and the others would not hear.
Strider could have given a number of words in comfort or reassurance to the hobbitÂ’s mounting fear, but chose to show his protection in a more physical way. He gently laid his hand on the hobbitÂ’s slender shoulder and squeezed, showing that had both the strength to aid them and the will to see all of the hobbits safely to Bree.
Frodo gave a smile of gratitude and understanding of the manÂ’s actions, but as Strider walked away to join the others for a meal, his eyes drifted nervously into the darkened canopy of the trail they had covered that day. Something was out there and it was coming for them.
Â“Here you are, MrÂ´. Frodo, a new plate, nice and hot,Â” Sam said, handing out the plate to his master for a second time that evening, this time a might bit cautious about his bandaged hand.
Â“Thank you, Sam,Â” Frodo said, taking the plate. He didnÂ’t really feel like eating, but the concentration of doing so took his mind away from his earlier worries. Also, he could not have refused with the hopeful look upon his friendÂ’s face after taking such meticulous care to prepare the meal.
Frodo was genuinely surprised how much the hot food did help him. It settled into his stomach well and he felt a little contentment for the first time that day. With the tiredness of walking all day, it didnÂ’t take long for his two younger cousins to fall asleep on their blankets. He was grateful that they now slept close together, both out of love and protectiveness in addition to keeping warm.
Sam had continued to do little unnecessary tasks around the camp site for a time, but even had to admit in the end that he was needing sleep. He was a little worried when Frodo didnÂ’t make any moves to try and sleep himself. Â“ArenÂ’t you weary
after such a long day, Mr. Frodo?Â”
Â“Yes, I am, thank you, Sam. I will sleep soon, please donÂ’t stay awake on my account. You need to be well rested to continue our journey tomorrow,Â” Frodo said, trying to quell his friendÂ’s concern.
Half an hour later, Sam had fallen asleep as was curled up in his blanket. Strider had taken watch over the sleeping hobbits, knowing his stamina and endurance was better to suited to staying awake and alert for longer periods of time.
No matter how hard he tried, Frodo found himself unable to drift into more than a light doze. The sounds of the forest were ever present and seemed to echo through the still night.
Strider had shared a cup of tea with Frodo when he noticed the hobbitÂ’s resistance or reluctance to find rest. Hoping that the tea would allow him to grow drowsy and settle down comfortably to sleep. He knew the fears Frodo held this night and the apprehension he felt towards the journey ahead.
Â“Come, Frodo, I will try and help you relax,Â” Strider offered, gesturing for Frodo to move closer to the fire and sit beside him. Frodo did so, glancing towards his companion hobbits, and making sure that their slumber continued.
Making sure that Frodo was wrapped well in blankets and sitting close enough for the warm of the fire to be of benefit, the Ranger began to hum an Elvish tune he had learned in Rivendell many years ago.
The hum was in deep, low soothing tones and soft enough not to wake the other sleeping hobbits. Frodo, turned his face slightly and looked up Aragorn, and smiled at the RangerÂ’s attempts, knowing that he and his friends were truly in good and safe company.
Aragorn could see Frodo staring into the flames of the fire, but as the night grew shorter and shorter, the humming began to have the desired effect. From his seated position near the hobbit, Strider noted FrodoÂ’s eyes beginning to droop. He continued the humming until he was certain that sleep had finally triumphed.
Very gently, he guided Frodo into lying down on the blankets, fussing with the blankets once more and ensuring that the hobbit was warm enough. He was careful not to touch the injured, bandaged hand and was pleased to note that Frodo had made no gasps or winces of pain within the last two hours. Hopefully the balm he had applied in addition to the herb soaked fabric would ease the pain and allow undisturbed rest.
When Sam awoke three hours later, the first of the hobbits that morning, he looked around for a moment, concerned when he didnÂ’t see Frodo still sleeping nearby. He got to his feet and turned to look at Strider, and smiled as he saw the blanketed
bundle beside the dying embers.
Strider put his finger to his lips, but got to his feet and approached Sam to talk to him in a whisper. Â“Your master did not fall sleep until the very early hours of the morning. Let him sleep until breakfast is ready and we have to be moving again. Today will be quite long.Â”
Sam nodded his head in acknowledgement, but was worried that Frodo had not been able to fall asleep, despite his fatigue. Merry and Pippin soon began to stir and were told of FrodoÂ’s restless night. They kept their talk to whispers and helped Sam prepare breakfast and readying to resume their walk.
Â“I think we need some more firewood,Â” Sam said as he noted only a small amount of kindling left. Strider had supplied the fire with the majority of the larger branches during the night to keep it burning and supplying warmth to himself and Frodo.
Â“I will go, Sam,Â” Merry offered, seeing Strider was speaking to Pippin and taking the time to explain why something was done a certain way. Pippin seemed to thrive in the RangerÂ’s company and drank in any amount of tuition or demonstration
that was given on how to do things for himself.
While Sam attended to breakfast, Frodo still sleeping deeply beside the fire and Pippin and Strider engaged in conversation, Merry saw the opportunity to slip out of the camp without being noticed.
Sam fussed over breakfast as well as Frodo, stopping in between stirrings of his pots, to make sure the blankets were still wrapped securely around his master. He was glad to see FrodoÂ’s features poised in sleep. The dark-haired hobbit yet to utter a sound or even stir so far that morning.
Pippin was walking towards the fire, when he saw SamÂ’s administrations. He couldnÂ’t help but have a joke at the gardenerÂ’s expense. Â“Sam, will you stop your incessant fussing over him. He is not even awake yet,Â” the younger hobbit admonished playfully.
Â“I was just making sure he was warm enough, Mr. Pippin. WonÂ’t do Mr. Frodo any good to get a chill out here in the forest,Â” Sam said as he tried to brush away the comments about fussing too much. He knew that he did, but he wouldnÂ’t have it any other way.
Sam didnÂ’t care what others thought about how he looked after his friend and master, but knew Pippin well enough that he was merely having a laugh. Pippin had been known to become a little worried over Frodo in the past as well. Hobbits cared for each other whether friend or family and thatÂ’s how it should always be.
The light-heartedness of the morning was soon forgotten though as a loud rustling sound could be heard from some bushes on the outskirts of the camping area. Strider was immediately on his feet at the noise, and it had been loud enough for Sam and Pippin to gather to each other and around Frodo.
Strider stood in front of the hobbits as Sam woke his master. They couldnÂ’t wait any longer when it may become necessary for them to flee at a moments notice. Frodo looked about with a sleepy expression on his face until the sound came again, making him jump to his feet.
Â“What is making that sound, Strider?Â” Pippin asked in a whispered voice. Frodo gripped tightly to the youngest hobbitÂ’s tunic, in case his fear made him run in the wrong direction. If Frodo was to run, he would make certain that his cousins and Sam were with him.
Â“Hush, Pip,Â” Frodo chided him softly. Â“Strider will tell us what it is when the danger has passed.Â” The tension in the air was high and all failed to note that one member of their travelling party was currently missing.
Â“Show yourself or feel the bite of my blade,Â” the Ranger said in a deep voice, trying to induce power, in addition to fear in the unseen intruder.
Any further words died upon StriderÂ’s lips as the figure in the bushes came forth and stood in front for all to see. The hobbits also wore a startled expression, scarcely able to fathom what they were seeing.
Walking very slowly, not wanting to cause the Ranger to take any unnecessary action, a very meek and humble figure of Merry emerged from the bushes. In his hands he had an armful of firewood which he dutifully placed on the ground before him to indicate what kind of mischief he had been involved in.
Merry stood before his friends for a moment longer, waiting for someone to speak. He looked down at his waistcoat and nervously tugged a stray tuft of grass from the fabric. He didnÂ’t think he had done anything to draw any attention to himself, but the expressions on the faces of the Ranger and his kin said otherwise.
Pippin was the first to recover from the shock and hide his embarrassment with an angry reproach for his older cousin. Â“Meriadoc Brandybuck! What do you think you are doing?Â”
Â“I was collecting firewood, just like I told you I was going to do, Peregrin Took,Â” Merry responded, not liking the use of his full name. That was reserved for his parents and usually indicated that he was in deep trouble.
Strider grinned as he sheathed his sword, thinking that they had all jumped to conclusions at hearing a rustle in the bushes. They had let their fear resurface and their imaginations to run away a little. If it were not for the evil that still lurked within the forest, it would have been most comical.
Â“You did give us quite a scare, Merry,Â” Frodo said in a gentle voice, placing his hand on his cousinÂ’s shoulder to show that all was forgiven. Sam nodded his head in agreement, but chose to hide his mistake by gathering the bundle of wood at MerryÂ’s feet, taking it back to the fire to finish preparing breakfast.
With morning already upon them, and the sun rising in the distant horizon, the forest began to change colour once again, allowing small pockets of warmth and light to emerge through the thickets and leaves. The travellers shared breakfast and enjoyed a hot beverage before gathering the last of their belongings together, ready to begin what would be a long day of walking ahead.
After a few hours, the temperature beneath the canopy was warm, and a little humid. The hobbits were thankful for the shade offered by the trees overhead, and drank often from their water skins. Occasionally they went so far as to pour some of the cool liquid over the backs of their necks.
By mid-afternoon, the clouds were beginning to gather closer together and took on an ominous look. Strider had been watching them carefully for about an hour when he decided that shelter was of immediate priority. His instincts spoke of a storm brewing, and he would prefer the sanctuary of a cave before the rain started falling and wind started blowing through the trees.
The hobbits had chattered contently along the walk so far that day, showing little signs of fear from the previous day. No doubt the memory of the black rider had not gone away completely, just diminished significantly, allowing them to conquer their fear and continue the journey.
The canopy was beginning to grow thicker and more dense now, and the skies grew darker as the storm began to approach with more speed than Strider had first thought. He would need to voice his concerns to the hobbits to warn them of the impending storm, so they would not be frightened if the skies began to thunder.
Â“Frodo,Â” Strider said, pausing slightly and letting the four hobbits gather so that they may all hear the warning at the same time. Â“The skies are darkening and I feel a storm building. We must find shelter or a cave and quickly if we are to save ourselves from being soaked by the rain.Â”
Â“Strider, but there isnÂ’t any rocks or shelter anywhere near here,Â” Sam remarked, looking about them and seeing nothing but trees. Nobody had yet to see the change in Frodo. As they discussed what to do, the moist, damp air from the forest rose to meet that much higher up in the atmosphere, feeding the storm.
Â“I know, Sam, and if we cannot find any cave soon, then we may be forced to camp beneath the largest of the trees to prevent us getting renched,Â” the Ranger said. He was not prepared from the reaction that this statement would invoke from Frodo.
Â“IsnÂ’t there another way of staying out of the storm?Â” Frodo asked, all the time he spoke, unaware that he had taken a number of retreating steps away from his companions. He could feel their eyes upon him, perplexed at his question, picking at the edges of the bandage covering his hand in nervousness.
Â“I am afraid not, Frodo, but do not worry, the storm will soon pass. The trees will provide quite a good source of shelter if that is all that is to be found,Â” Strider said, seeing that the hobbit was a little more distressed than he should be about the suggestion of sheltering under trees.
Â“We have to find a cave like you said, Strider,Â” Frodo said with haste. His words seemed to spill from his mouth all at once, as he tried to quell the growing unease he felt. Â“We cannot stay underneath the trees, Merry,Â” he added, looking directly at his cousin as he spoke.
Â“We will find a cave, Frodo,Â” Merry assured his cousin, feeling the inquisitive stares from the other hobbits at why he made such a promise. Merry was the only person who knew of FrodoÂ’s nightmare so many years ago at Brandy Hall. He had not breathed a word to another soul in all this time, not even Pippin.
With time against them Strider decided it best to get the hobbits moving again rather than try and ease FrodoÂ’s fears. He would talk to the hobbit once they were out of the storm. As they started to walk again though, it became obvious that luck was not altogether in their favour as a loud crack of thunder rippled across the sky.
Frodo walked, at first trailing behind a little, until another crack of thunder drove him to seek safety amongst his companions. He huddled into his cloak as best he could whilst still walking, keeping his head bowed slightly. Occasionally he would
glance towards the trees that they passed, only to shudder again as the thunder continued to roll overhead.
With a burst of lightening an a crack of thunder, the skies opened up and the rain began falling steadily. The hobbits were trying to remain as dry as possible underneath their cloaks as they sought shelter, but their feet soon found the ground sodden and slippery as puddles began to form from the excess water lying on the forest floor.
The storm was now loud and any conversation between the companions was drowned out by the thunder and wind howling through the trees. Strider declared that they would not find a cave before the storm ended and they needed to stop and keep as dry as possible underneath the trees. Some of the larger trees would prove of benefit.
Frodo, however, was not prepared to co-operate at all with the RangerÂ’s suggestion. In fact he outright refused, protesting strongly as he shouted through the storm.
Â“We cannot stay here, Strider,Â” the hobbit shouted, his hair slick from the rain and plastered to his pale face. No matter how much Sam tried, Frodo would not be calmed or comforted. The more the storm raged on, the more distressed the dark-haired hobbit became.
Â“Frodo, we have little choice. I wish for better lodgings as well, but the trees offer the best protection at the moment,Â” the Ranger tried to reason. He saw a look on FrodoÂ’s face that he had yet to witness. Outright terror. It was a different fear from that of the Black Rider, but what fuelled such fear he couldnÂ’t tell.
Strider could sense from FrodoÂ’s shouting that the hobbit was beyond conversation and that any negotiation would prove fruitless. His fear was too great and seemed to intensify with every clap of thunder and gust of wind that blew.
The Ranger went to grasp FrodoÂ’s hand, seeing his muddy footsteps retreating once again. He couldnÂ’t afford for any of the hobbits to run in this storm. They might be injured as a result of their flight, or at the very least become separated and lost from the group.
Frodo, though, struggled and writhed in the RangerÂ’s gentle grip, sensing that the Ranger wanted him to do something that he mind was not willing to. Strider was forced to make his grip a little firmer as Frodo pulled with more strength than he thought normal for fear of a storm.
Â“Frodo, calm down, I am not going to hurt you,Â” Strider shouted over the storm, but not releasing his hand from the hobbit. Something was frightening him quite badly.
Â“No, you donÂ’t understand,Â” Frodo yelled back, still attempting to wrench free. They couldnÂ’t stay underneath the trees. They just couldnÂ’t. He needed to make them see the danger that they remained unaware of.
Â“Strider, he is too frightened. You need to find a cave or other shelter away from the trees,Â” Merry shouted to the Ranger. Â“We will keep him here until you return.Â”
Not wanting to leave the hobbits on their own, but knowing there was very little choice, Strider reluctantly nodded his head. He spoke to Sam and Merry, while Pippin tried his best to reassure Frodo that things would be alright. Without further hesitation, the Ranger ran of into the rain, seeking temporary accommodations for the night, away from the trees.
Luck would fall his way a little, discovering a large enough cavern in a rock formation only a short distance ahead. It had remained unseen to them because of the denseness of the forest. The rock was black and shiny, most likely slate. The cave he found had a large opening and was a situated a few feet off the ground.
Retracing his steps, Strider went back to find the hobbits much as they had left them. By now their clothing was thoroughly soaked, but what worried the Ranger the most was the agitation in Frodo that was still present and had not diminished during his brief departure.
Sam was trying his best to offer reassurance, as were FrodoÂ’s cousins, but the normally, gentle hobbit, was passed comprehension and driven only by adrenaline and fear. The other hobbits were having difficulty in persuading him not to flee from their current location, the sound of the thunder and the sight of the lightening overhead, speaking louder than their words.
Â“I have found shelter, come, it is not far,Â” Strider announced.
Â“Did you hear that, Mr. Frodo, shelter at last,Â” a weary Sam declared with excitement, hoping the news would be welcomed by his master.
Exhaustion from the day pulled at FrodoÂ’s senses, his legs not willing to obey the command to walk with his companions. Instead, they shouted to him to run like never before in another direction, telling him that he would not be safe until he was far away from the trees.
Before Frodo had a chance to act on his mindÂ’s demands, the Ranger swiftly picked up the distressed hobbit and made haste towards the cavern. He was dismayed to find the hobbit shivering in his arms. He did not know if it was caused by the cold rain and damp clothes, or the fear that had resulted in such a change in the normally timid, and calm hobbit.
Sam went about starting a fire, though with nothing but soggy kindling about, it would take some effort. The wet wood created a lot of smoke to begin with, but eventually a small fire was beginning to warm the inside of the cavern.
Pippin and Merry searched through the packs, looking for useful things and some food. Sam had already put a small pot of water on to boil for tea. Pippin had found a pouch of aromatic leaves in FrodoÂ’s pack, able to tell from the pungent smell that he had found tea leaves.
The cavern was partitioned slightly by a large wall of granite, creating a second smaller space towards the rear of the cave. This, the companions decided would prove good sleeping quarters, away from the draughtiness of the front entrance and provide protection should anything approach the cave.
In was in this smaller section of cave that Strider now settled Frodo into. Merry had searched through the packs and removed the top layers of wet blankets. Much to their relief, the ones further down had been spared from the rain and were perfectly dry and warm.
Frodo sat where the Ranger placed him on the cave floor, his thoughts taking him back to another time that he did not wish to remember. He barely felt MerryÂ’s coercion to get him out of his wet clothes and into dry ones. He did not resist as he had done with Strider in the forest, all of his energy now spent.
Strider watched the hobbit for a few moments with curiousness etched on his brow. Frodo seemed to be wringing and rubbing at his wrists continuously. As if he was trying to remove something from them. There was nothing to be seen on his skin that Strider noted. The bandages on his hand were a little damp from the rain, but covered only his hand and should not prove to be an irritant his wrists. He didnÂ’t want to upset the hobbit further by trying to enquire as to why he was doing it.
As soon as the tea was ready, Sam brought a steaming cup to his master, hoping the warm liquid would do much for FrodoÂ’s melancholy and dampened spirit. Coaxing him slowly and whispering comforting words that the forest was no longer a threat, Sam managed to encourage him to drink about half of the hot tea.
Usually Frodo found great comfort in something as simple as a hot cup of tea. He had always told Sam that there wasnÂ’t anything complicated in a cup of tea. It had the ability to warm you on the inside and make you forget any mishaps from the day. But today, when comfort and reassurance were needed in abundance, it seemed to do little.
Frodo didnÂ’t even seem to notice everyoneÂ’s concern for him, as his mind drifted back in time. His eyes grew tired and his body longed for rest after a long day. He reclined back against the dry blankets and allowed his eyes to drift close, hoping that sleep would invade and prevent the memories from coming back.
Sam and the others soon changed out of their own wet clothes and tried their best to lie them out, hoping that they would dry. They sipped at their own tea around the small fire, listening to the howling wind outside and stealing occasional glances to the where Frodo appeared to be sleeping.
Strider joined the hobbits by the fire, but kept an alert presence towards the front of the cave, still wary that there was evil present in the forest outside. The rain and storm should be beneficial in deterring anything from approaching the hobbits this night.
Â“I suppose you all wonder what happened out there today,Â” Merry said, breaking the silence around the fire. He sipped at his hot drink again, looking back at the small flames that flickered, lost in his own thoughts for a moment.
Â“With Frodo, you mean?Â” Pippin asked, not able to drum up any enthusiasm for learning what had caused such sudden and visible distress to his older cousin. Â“One minute he seemed fine, the next he was like a caged animal, trying to escape,Â” he added, trying to find the right words to describe FrodoÂ’s reaction.
Â“But there was no sign of them Black Riders in that storm, what would he be trying to flee from?Â” Sam asked, not knowing why his master was so afraid.
Merry sighed a little, knowing that he would need to take his time and explain the full story if they were to truly understand. Â“What I am about to tell you must not be repeated outside this group,Â” he began.
Â“You do not have to explain anything if you have pledged a pact with Frodo,Â” Strider said.
Â“No pact as such, at least not one that was spoken about between us,Â” Merry responded. Â“But one that I rather made with myself never to speak of what Frodo went through back then.Â” He gave a wan smile to Pippin, knowing how it must have sounded to keep a secret from someone who you had shared everything with up until now.
Â“Back then?Â” Sam asked with confusion in his voice. Â“You mean before Mr. Frodo came to Hobbiton?Â” he asked trying to ascertain the time frame.
Â“Yes, Sam, when Frodo was still living at Brandy Hall after the death of his parents,Â” Merry answered. Â“I didnÂ’t find out what happened until a few weeks after it happened. But after he agreed to tell me, I swore that I wouldnÂ’t bring up the subject again. The memories of that night remained for him a long time afterwards and I know he still hasnÂ’t forgotten it completely.Â”
Â“You see, Strider, the way Frodo was acting today about not wanting to stay under the trees when you suggested it, would be considered very normal after going through the torment that he did,Â” Merry explained.
As the wind continued to swirl around the trees outside the cave, the conversation focused on Merry and he began to give a full account of the version of events all those years ago at Brandy Hall.
Â“Let me ask you a question first, Sam,Â” Merry said, changing the pace slightly. Â“Did Uncle Bilbo ever talk to you about FrodoÂ’s fear of storms when he was living at Bag End?Â”
Sam pondered the question for a moment before answering. Â“I donÂ’t recall him saying anything as simple as that, Mr. Merry. I was quite young myself when Mr. Frodo came to live with Master Bilbo. There was one time, when a storm was brewing in the afternoon. Mr Frodo seemed a little uneasy and agitated, but nothing like how he was
Â“And what did Bilbo say?Â” Merry encouraged, nodding his head in acknowledgement of SamÂ’s description.
Â“The storm was quite a way off as I think back now, and Master Bilbo didnÂ’t think it would reach Bag End until nightfall. But Mr. Frodo thought otherwise and locked himself away in his room for the rest of the afternoon. He didnÂ’t even want to come into the kitchen to eat supper,Â” Sam continued.
Â“Frodo was about 15 when it happened. The summer had been quite hot at Brandy Hall and I remember my father saying that we were headed for a bad season of storms. Not even a week would pass before one would approach from the west, causing thunder and lightening for hours,Â” Merry stated.
Â“After his parents passed away, Frodo found it difficult to fit in with most of the other children at Brandy Hall. At least thatÂ’s what my father says. I can remember him telling me that it took Frodo quite a long time to try and mix with the other children. When he did so, they thought him brooding and sullen for their liking.Â”
Â“There were 3 boys from the Hall that Frodo tried to avoid. They were much bigger than him, probably about the same age as Lotho Sackville-Baggins. Frodo was much smaller and timid towards them. They often picked on him for no reason because he didnÂ’t fight back.Â”
Â“What did these 3 boys do to Mr. Frodo?Â” Sam said, feeling his anger rise a little at the though of his master being picked on, especially after losing both his parents. It must have been a very lonely time for him.
Â“I am getting to that, Sam,Â” Merry replied. Â“One day, a storm was brewing, but it was still around lunch time and it wouldnÂ’t come to Brandy Hall until supper time. Frodo told my father that he was going to take a long walk, but should be back within 2 hours. My father didnÂ’t see any reason why he shouldnÂ’t go and didnÂ’t stop him from going.Â”
Â“Those three boys must have seen Frodo begin his walk and decided to follow him, probably just to taunt and tease him. They must have taken some rope from the shed without permission too.Â”
SamÂ’s heart skipped a beat at the idea of these boys having rope in their hands. With their only intentions being to seek out his master and taunt him, he knew that they must have been up to no good without hearing any more of the tale.
Â“Frodo began to walk through the wooded forest that lies on the outskirts of Brandy Hall. Usually it is restricted to the younger children, but seeing as he was older now, he was able to roam where he pleased so long as he told someone where he was going.Â”
Â“Exactly what happened that afternoon, I am not sure, except for the parts that Frodo eventually told me. I still think there are things that he didnÂ’t tell me or didnÂ’t want me to hear about what they did to him that day. The storm came over the forest a lot quicker then first thought, and Frodo was about to begin walking back to the Hall.Â”
Â“Those three older boys used the rope to tie Frodo to one of the larger trees in the forest. He must have tried to call out for help, but being in the trees, nobody at Brandy Hall heard his pleas to help. They lashed both wrists to the lower boughs
of the tree. They left his free untied, but the rope was too tight and he couldnÂ’t get free.Â”
Â“Those animals!Â” Sam declared hotly, but then fell silent, slightly embarrassed by his outburst. He looked towards his master and felt anger again at hearing him being bound, helpless to a tree.
Â“Did they beat Frodo up?Â” Pippin asked hurriedly, not wanting to think of his cousin, bruised and bleeding and still restrained by rope.
Â“Some, yes, there were many bruises on his chest and stomach area when he was found. He must have fought hard to get free, but they Frodo was outnumbered three to one and they were so much bigger than him. There were hand marks on his upper arms where they must have held onto him really tightly to get the rope tied around his wrists.Â”
Â“Poor Frodo,Â” Pippin whispered, thinking how cruelly his cousin had been treated.
StriderÂ’s thoughts drifted back to earlier when he had seen Frodo rubbing at his wrists when there appeared to be nothing present to irritate the skin. Obviously in his mind, the hobbit had returned to that time when those older boys had forcibly restrained him against the tree. His sub-conscious making him feel as if the course rope was still bound around his wrists.
Â“ThatÂ’s not the worst of it, Pip,Â” Merry said with sadness in his voice. The next part would be even harder for FrodoÂ’s companions to hear.
Strider looked at Merry with surprise on his face. How could it possibly get worse for Frodo? Pippin looked a little pale which Sam just looked shocked. They were all finding it difficult to hear such a harrowing tale of nastiness directed towards
an undeserving friend.
Â“After they tied him there, they went back to Brandy Hall, leaving him tied against the tree with the storm approaching overhead.Â”
Â“You mean they just left him like that, with no chance of escape?Â” Sam said, his anger bristling once more as he thought about what animals these older boys had been.
Â“Yes, Sam, they did. Frodo must have called out for help for many hours because after they brought him back to Brandy Hall, his throat was red and raw. He couldnÂ’t talk above a whisper for almost a week.Â”
Â“The storm struck about midnight. By that time, my father and other adults at Brandy Hall did notice FrodoÂ’s absence. Questions were asked whether or not anybody had seen him return from his walk. No one admitted seeing him. The three boys responsible were not present at dinner that night. No doubt hiding with their shame.Â”
Â“So Frodo would have been out in the miserable storm all night?Â” Pippin asked, feeling a little sick that he never knew about any of these horrible acts that had happened to his cousin. Â“He must have been terribly scared and wet.Â”
Â“Yes, I am sure he was terrified, which is why he reacted the way he did today. Too many bad memories. We tried to search for him that night, but were not able to due to the storm. I tried to plead with my father that Frodo was out in the forest lost somewhere, but he said that he couldnÂ’t risk anybody else getting lost until the storm has passed.Â”
Â“Early the next morning, the search began. I was forced to stay behind with my mother and wait for news that they had found him. When they did find Frodo, the tree that he had been tied to, had been blown over in the storm. My father said they found Frodo still lashed to the tree, laying on his side. Thankfully, the tree had fallen at such an angle so as not to crush him.Â”
Â“I canÂ’t believe another hobbit would do something like that to one of his own kind,Â” Sam commented. Strider nodded his head in agreement. In all the years he had been watching and protecting the Shire, he had never known such cowardly acts to be carried out.
Â“I will never forget how I felt when I saw Frodo as he lay in my fatherÂ’s arms when they came back to Brandy Hall. I never want to see a relative or friend of mine like that again. He was almost invisible due to the amount of blankets they had him wrapped up in. His skin was so white from the cold and his clothes were sodden and muddy.Â”
Â“There were many whispering throughout the Hall that night that he might not make it through the night. A healer was sought immediately, and even he gave a gasp at seeing Frodo for the first time. His wrists were chafed where the rope had rubbed too deeply and where he had tried to pull at his bonds.Â”
Â“He survived the night, as you can see, otherwise he wouldnÂ’t be here with us tonight. But he was so very sick for a long time afterwards. Most likely from being out in the cold all night and from laying on the wet ground. His lungs became congested very quickly and because of his ordeal, he didnÂ’t have the strength to overcome the symptoms. He developed pneumonia and had to fight for every breath he drew for almost three weeks.Â”
Â“I tried to sit with him a few times, when his fever was so high. But if he recognized me, he didnÂ’t show it. He laid about languidly and his face was sweaty and flushed with fever. After that my mother didnÂ’t want me getting too upset and said that I shouldnÂ’t visit until Frodo was beginning to improve.Â”
Â“I guess thatÂ’s why Master Bilbo was so concerned about Mr. Frodo going outside without a coat when it was starting to get a bit chilly,Â” Sam interjected. Â“I remember him having to remind Mr. Frodo when I was out in the garden with my Gaffer.Â”
Â“After the pneumonia, Frodo was always prone to getting sick, Sam. Even now we should make sure that he never gets too chilled or wet. His lungs are considerably weaker from the pneumonia,Â” Merry said.
Â“I will make sure that if we have sufficient shelter next time a storm should approach,Â” Strider commented. Â“So that Frodo will not have to remember such bad times.Â”
Â“Thank you, Strider,Â” Merry said. The telling of the tale taking its toll on his own usual chirpy outlook. That night, it would take him quite a while to settle down to sleep as he relived memories of his own from that time.
The others kept thinking back to the tale that Merry had given as well. Promising that would never openly reveal their knowledge of what had happened when Frodo was around.
Each of them would check on the sleeping Frodo during the night, and Sam made sure he was closest of all, not wanting to leave his master unprotected or alone.
The story Merry shared made him focus on certain things that had happened in the past back in the Shire. When an expression on FrodoÂ’s face might not have been deemed out of place. Thinking back know and adding in MerryÂ’s explanation, he understood why for the first time.
With each passing day, it seemed that he and the other companions were seeing Frodo in new and different ways. That this usually shy, gentle-hobbit, had a complicated story and past. That his quiet and calm nature came from triumphs and tragedies in his life that his friends were only beginning to learn about.
Whether it be from the exhaustion from the previous day or the sound of the still gentle rain outside, Frodo slept soundly that night. Perhaps better than he had on the journey so far, save for the memories. When dawnÂ’s early light appeared through the trees, the skies were still a little heavy with cloud.
Strider informed the other hobbits to allow Frodo to sleep as long as he needed that morning. Although their journey was pressing, he erred on the side of caution with the little folk. A quicker and more demanding pace might see them increase the number of miles they may travel in a day, but certainly would see the hobbits tired easily and not able to keep to such a strenuous pace.
The Ranger planned to allow the hobbits to rest as much as possible until midday. They would only travel for half a day today, and then a full one the next. He would be able to gather some fresh meat from the forest during the morning hours and they could enjoy a hot meal for lunch.
The cavern provided good enough shelter from the elements outside and allowed them to stay warm and dry whilst the steady misting drizzle continued. He had been able to restock the firewood before the hobbits awoke. It was still a little damp, but would serve their purposes well enough for today.
Strider had been sitting near the entrance of the cave, looking out at the forest of trees beyond when he heard one of the hobbits coughing. It wasnÂ’t a harsh cough, but being followed by two sneezes, he could tell they came from Frodo.
The wet clothes from the night before and the cold wind had given the hobbit the beginnings of a cold. His earlier decision to remain within the warmth for the majority of the day might have been premature, but the right choice after listening to Frodo.
Sam appeared at his masterÂ’s side, with a cup of water in hand that Frodo accepted gratefully. He looked about the cavern for a moment, not certain of how he had gotten here, but thankful for the warmth his blanket provided. He did not know how he came to be wearing a dry set of clothes, but guessed that his cousins or Sam had seen to his comfort.
Â“Where are we, Sam?Â” Frodo asked simply as he handed back the empty cup. Â“I remember there was a storm,Â” he added, then he tried to go back and recall exactly what had happened.
Â“It was raining very hard, Mr. Frodo, and the wind wouldnÂ’t stop. Strider found us this cave, and I for one am glad. I was so pleased to get out of them wet clothes last night and warm myself by the fire a bit. Come and sit there now, Mr. Frodo, and I will see to some breakfast for you.Â”
Frodo didnÂ’t have the heart to tell Sam that food was the last thing on his mind, but stood and walked the few metres to the fire. Merry and Pippin greeted him enthusiastically enough, teasing him lightly about sleeping later than everyone else.
Â“Are you feeling well this morning, Frodo?Â” Strider asked as he tried to assess the hobbit from the short distance that separated them. Â“We do not need to leave until lunch time today and if the rain persists, we may need to stay a further night.Â”
Frodo nodded his head in acknowledgement, secretly thanking the Ranger for making their journey as easy as possible without forgetting the nature of their task. He took a cup of tea from Sam as it was offered and sat silently regarding his cousins as they chattered happily between each other.
With his cousins preoccupied and Sam still tending to breakfast, Frodo took the opportunity to talk quietly with Strider. He wrapped the blanket around his shoulders a little more and then joined the Ranger near the entrance to the cave.
He remembered small parts about what had happened the night before. Whilst he didnÂ’t know the full details and Sam was reluctant to retell them to his master for fear of upsetting him, Frodo sensed that he had been at the very least unco-operative the night before.
Â“Please accept my apologies, Strider. I did not mean to cause things to become difficult this early into our journey,Â” Frodo said. The hobbit knew that somehow the Ranger had come to learn something about his fear of storms. How much or how little remained a mystery.
Â“You have nothing to apologize for, Frodo,Â” Strider reassured him. Â“There will be things that test us all on this journey. Whether it be from those who pursue us, or ghosts from our pasts.Â”
For the next hour of so, Frodo and Strider seemed content enough to enjoy each otherÂ’s silent company. They indulged in a smoke each with their long pipes, are exchanged a few words at various intervals. Sam kept busying himself about the cave as much as possible, not wanting to intrude on any discussions Strider and his master might be having.
As the day wore on, it soon became apparent to all that the rain would rain consistent for most of the day and into the evening again. They would not travel today. The problem with this arrangement was two young, usually mischievous and active
hobbits who each were brimming with energy, but with no way of using it.
Sam tried to get them into some games he knew younger hobbits could play to pass the time. But Merry and Pippin soon became bored with these. He was about to turn to Frodo and ask for assistance in helping his cousins behave. Sam was not normally one to get angry easily, but with what they had been through already and the worry he still carried for Frodo, the frustration was becoming increasingly difficult to mask on his face.
Frodo seemed to notice SamÂ’s distress first though and intervened as the older member of the family. Aragorn and Sam watched with playful smiles on their faces, content enough for Frodo to take control of the situation and win over his cousins with a most ingenious method. By now, one might have been tempted to raise their voice in anger at the two younger hobbits and berate them for acting like small children.
Frodo took a different approach, one that worked just as well, but had all the subtly of his nature. Instead of raising his voice, which Merry and Pippin both knew he was capable of doing; he did the opposite and tried to invoke a little sympathy and compassion of them towards himself.
Â“Lads, could you please do me a favour?Â” Frodo began, standing so that his posture was slightly awkward and tired looking. His lowered his head to his chest a little as he spoke, allowing his hair to fall into his eyes, making his complexion underneath
a little paler.
Merry and Pippin had been grappling over who had possession of a mushroom, neither willing to give ground enough to share the delightful morsel. Upon hearing FrodoÂ’s tired sounding question, they both turned to face their cousin and immediately took on the look of shame that their bickering had seemingly caused their cousin to need to speak to them.
Â“What is it, Frodo? Name it and we will do it. We have nothing else to do right now,Â” Pippin asked for the both of them.
Â“I just wanted to ask if you would like to help Sam with lunch. He might appreciate you preparing some of the potatoes he has and chopping some of the other ingredients. I am feeling a little chilled after being wet last night and would like to sit by the fire,Â” Frodo answered.
Aragorn marvelled at FrodoÂ’s ability and prowess. The hobbit should be an advisor to those of a hall. He seemed to be able to manipulate those around him by using methods other than force or firmness. Â“He has those two right where he wants them,Â” he whispered to Sam without the two younger hobbits seeing or hearing him.
Sam nodded his head in agreement, Â“The master at work, I would say,Â” he offered in return with a smirk. FrodoÂ’s idea worked well as he his cousins forgot about the mushroom entirely and rallied to aid their cousin.
Â“Come, Frodo, you should be sitting down and taking it easy after getting so wet last night in the storm,Â” Merry announced, grasping a sleeve and his cousinÂ’s arm and leading him over to the blankets around the fire. After making sure that Frodo was settled enough, he and Pippin approach Sam to see what needed doing for lunch.
Â“What do you need us to do, Sam?Â” Pippin asked with enthusiasm. MerryÂ’s expression was similar, wanting to please Frodo and help out as much as possible. Neither of them realised that they were now working as a team and had ceased their bickering, making the cave a lot quieter.
Â“Mr. Merry, if you would like to help chop some of the vegetables, Mr. Pippin, I could use you to help stir the stew,Â” Sam said, not wanting to deny them helping. Â“First though, since Mr. Frodo is talking of feeling chilled, we might boil a fresh pot of water and make a nice cup of tea.Â”
Â“IÂ’ll get the water,Â” Merry offered, knowing that he merely had to hold up the pot underneath the steady downpour outside to satisfy their needs.
Â“Mr. Pippin, if you look in my backpack, you will see a small pouch of Mr. FrodoÂ’s favourite tea. Chamomile, nice and gentle and just the thing for warming him up inside.Â”
Pippin went to SamÂ’s backpack as instructed, and felt around for the small pouch that the stout hobbit spoke about. There were a few other pouches, but mostly contained pungent powdered herbs and spices. He was about to exclaim out loud in triumph when he found one that smelt of Chamomile tea.
His exuberance was quickly thwarted though as he withdrew the pouch and noted only a few sparse leaves. The pouch was empty, the few scattered leaves that remained would barely colour the water for tea. Â“Sam, this pouch is empty,Â” he pouted, holding it up for Sam to inspect it.
Â“Pippin, there is some tea in a bag in my backpack over by the wall there. Take as much as Sam requires. I can replenish both his and my stocks once we reach Bree in a day or two,Â” Strider said to the young hobbit.
A noise just on the outskirts of the forest drew StriderÂ’s attention for a moment, he turned his head towards its direction and waited with strike readiness its source became a threat to the hobbits.
Sam was busy stirring the strips of rabbit into the stew and Merry was preoccupied with the vegetables. None of them noticed the deadly mistake that the younger, inexperienced hobbit was about to make.
Pippin had scurried over to StriderÂ’s bag. He had almost shouted back to the Ranger to ask which pouch again, but seeing the Ranger distracted for a moment and edging towards the mouth of the cave, he choose not to disturb StriderÂ’s concentration. Besides, he knew what tea leaves looked like, he told himself, reaching into the backpack.
Pippin frowned though as he found not one, but many pouches of herbs and other extracts. The Ranger carried more than Sam did. Some of the bags were cloth and had small string ties around the top to keep the contents sealed from air and contamination. Other bags were made of more course material. It was one of these that Pippin searched in for FrodoÂ’s tea.
There were small labels stitched every so finely to each of the pouches. Pippin handled them carefully, not wanting to mar the fabric or to needlessly spill the contents. Only problem was, the label was scribed in a language he could not read.
Perhaps Frodo would know what was inside, Pippin said to himself. He gave a brief glance over his shoulder towards his older cousin, noting that Frodo had his eyes closed and seemed to be resting as was suggested. No, he didnÂ’t feel right disturbing Frodo. Once again he repeated with affirmation that he would be able to distinguish tea leaves when he saw them.
Using two small fingers, he untied the knot that secured the string around the top of one bag. By inserting his index finger into the small space created, he was able to pry the pouch open enough to examine the contents. He now brought the bag closer to his nose and sniffed at the escaping scent.
He frowned a little when there wasnÂ’t very much aroma present. ShouldnÂ’t tea leaves have a more pungent smell that this, Pippin asked himself. He had always loved the smell of BilboÂ’s kitchen in winter because of the warm atmosphere that came from freshly brewed tea.
At least he had managed to choose a pouch that contained leaves, he noted, daring to shake a small amount into the open palm of his hand. The leaves were small and black, like tea leaves. They were dried and gave a slight crinkly sound as he ran the tip of his fingers through them to turn them over and inspect them further.
Â“Sure looks like tea,Â” he murmured. Satisfied that he had found what he sought and pleased that he had not had to go through any more of AragornÂ’s pouches to find it.
Sam was still busy with the stew and checking on his master. He had just gotten up from the fire to wrap a blanket more securely around Frodo when Pippin bent over the boiling pot of water on the fire. His hand still contained the small amount of leaves that he had shaken from the pouch.
Â“How much should I put in, Sam?Â” Pippin asked, thinking it had not been often that we was called upon to make such a beverage over an open fire.
Â“About half a teaspoon I would say, Mr. Pippin,Â” Sam said, still keeping his attention on Frodo and the blanket rather than what Pippin was doing. Â“Mr Frodo doesnÂ’t like his tea especially strong, and we have to use it sparingly until we reach Bree. Seeing as how we are now using Mr. StriderÂ’s own personal stocks.Â”
Pippin opened his hand and tried to judge if the amount was correct. It didnÂ’t look quite like half a teaspoon, but he heeded SamÂ’s words and decided against using more. Merry had just come back to the fire in time to see Pippin sprinkle the leaves in his hand over the surface of the hot water.
Â“Alright there, Pip,Â” he asked casually, not detecting that his cousin had chosen the wrong leaves for making the tea. Â“Tea almost ready then?Â” he asked.
Usually he would not have said he enjoyed a cup of tea. Not as much as Frodo anyway. But with the rain still delaying them and the wind causing the cave to become draughty and cold, he thought it might help warm him a little. Of course he would wait until Frodo had a cup and the others too.
Â“In a few moments, Merry,Â” Pippin announced, pleased with himself that he was able to be helping his companions in a small way. Being from a socially higher family in the Shire, Pippin was often excluded from learning basic skills. There had always been someone else to do such things for him. Pippin felt a sense of pride that he was able to complete such a routine task on his own.
Sam now came back to the fire and the stew, giving a few more stirs He pulled out a small box of salt from his backpack and placed two pinches into the stew before stirring again. Pippin had been watching with curiosity, seeing if SamÂ’s methods were any different from his own.
Â“The tea is ready, Sam,Â” Pip said as the stout hobbit ladled a healthy portion into a few small bowls. The mixture was hot and the steam rose upwards towards the roof the cave, permeating the air with a delicious, earthy aroma.
Â“Did you find out what the noise was, Strider,Â” Merry addressed the Ranger as he came back inside the cave. He still wore an alertness though that told the hobbits that he had not.
Â“No, but we are safe for now,Â” Strider said, seeing the apprehension that the hobbits sensed from him. Â“Come, let us share a hot meal,Â” he added sitting down opposite Frodo and accepting a bowl of stew from Sam as it was offered to him.
Â“I have poured the tea, but it is a little hot, so let it cool a moment,Â” Sam warned, placing mugs of hot tea before them all. The first cup was for Frodo. Sam tested the sides, noting they were still too hot.
Â“Here you go, Mr. Frodo, a nice cup of tea for you to warm you on the inside,Â” Sam said with a smile. Â“WonÂ’t you have something to eat too?Â” he asked with hopefulness.
Although his eyes were closed and he may have appeared asleep, Frodo responded to SamÂ’s question about eating. Â“No thank you, Sam. I will gladly take tea. I am sure the stew is very good, but I will pass until later.Â”
Sam knew that when his master mentioned about eating later, it wouldnÂ’t actually happen. But right at the moment, he didnÂ’t think that Frodo was in danger of fading before his eyes. He would just have to keep vigilant and make sure that his master
did eat regularly.
Strider chatted quietly with Merry and Pippin whilst they ate. Briefly, they all forgot about the tea waiting to cool. All except Frodo. Sam sat near him around the fire, but had turned his head towards the younger hobbits, listening to the quiet conversation with the Ranger.
Frodo opened his eyes and looked at the mug of tea that Sam had left to cool. Unwrapping his arms from underneath the blanket, he reached for it, noting that the temperature was considerably cooler now. Probably due from the cool air being directed through the cave entrance.
Slowly, Frodo began sipping at the tea, noticing that it was a little more weaker than normal, but not wanting to outwardly complain. There was an aftertaste on his tongue that he couldnÂ’t quite describe. He took a few more mouthfuls of the tea, hoping that he could wash it down. He winced slightly though as the bitterness only seemed to become stronger. He placed the tea mug aside, only having drunk about half of the liquid.
Â“Anything wrong cousin?Â” Merry asked good-naturedly, as he saw Frodo put the mug aside but then screw his face up as though he wasnÂ’t finding it to his liking. He had not seen Frodo abandoned a cup of tea too many times before. Pippin must not have done it right, he thought to himself, recalling Pippin being the one to sprinkle the tea leaves into the water as he had walked over to the fire.
Â“I am sorry, but that tea was just so bitter,Â” Frodo said, closing his eyes and swallowing hard, trying to get ride of the aftertaste. He opened them again, but the taste was still acrid. Â“Sam, whatever did you do to that tea?Â” he asked, unable to hide his dislike.
Â“I didnÂ’t make the tea, Mr. Frodo, Master Pippin did,Â” Sam said, but his explanation not progressing any further as he stopped to observe how many shades paler his master had suddenly become.
Â“Sorry, Frodo, but it was my first time making it. I wasnÂ’t sure how much to put in,Â” Pippin apologized, feeling deflated that he had not pleased his cousin.
Â“DonÂ’t worry, lad, I am sure with SamÂ’s guidance you will become a better brewer,Â” Frodo said, trying to get to his feet. Problem was though, that his limbs were becoming increasingly heavy. When he finally did find his feet, they were unsteady and uncoordinated.
Frodo had to use an outstretched arm to flail about and find the cave wall he knew he had been leaning against. His hand felt the cold, black stone, but then he began to sway, his mind becoming dizzy. Â“S-Sam, I Â…Â…Â…Â” he managed to say before his knees gave way.
Â“Mr. Frodo!Â” Sam shouted in alarm, reaching out as he saw his master sway and then collapse. Merry and Pippin were quickly on the side, knocking over plates of stew and cups of tea in their haste.
Strider had leapt to FrodoÂ’s aid and helped Sam catch the hobbit before he could fall completely to the ground. He noted how lethargic Frodo appeared and how disconcerted he seemed about his surroundings.
Frodo was still conscious, but his eyes were closed and his face pale. He tried to look up at his worried friends, but his head felt incredibly heavy also and his eyelids began drifting closed. His posture sagged a little more against Sam as he fought
to remain sitting up.
Â“What is wrong with him?Â” Sam asked as he gently rubbed at FrodoÂ’s hand for a response from his master.
Â“I do not know, but it struck him so suddenly,Â” the Ranger said. Frodo had merely been relaxing by the fire and within a few minutes had become very ill. He had not eaten any of the food yet. Only sipping at the cup of tea Sam provided. It was at that moment, that he got a notion as to what might have happened.
With lightening quick reflexes, Strider snatched FrodoÂ’s still half filled tea mug from nearby and sniffed the tea. He didnÂ’t know what he smelt, but it most definitely wasnÂ’t tea.
Sam still held Frodo firmly, so Strider was able to release his hold and snare another hobbit just as quickly. They mustnÂ’t waste a moment. Â“Pippin, show me which pouch you got from my backpack,Â” he asked the hobbit. His grip was a little tighter than intended for the small hobbit.
Â“But I couldnÂ’t haveÂ…Â” Pippin protested as his eyes filled with tears that he might have caused Frodo to become sick. He released himself from the RangerÂ’s grip and stumbled over to the backpack, looking for the bag he had held. The weight of guilt at what he might have done already too foreboding.
Pippin held out the small brownish-coloured pouch, with the adorning label that he had not been able to read. His hand was shaking and his knees trembling as he was desperate to know what substance he had mistaken for tea. Merry came to stand with him and wrapped a supporting arm around his younger cousin, knowing that it was a mistake.
Strider could see the guilt on the young hobbitÂ’s face. Â“I will speak of this later, but for now you have to help me with Frodo,Â” he said firmly to the two. They both nodded quickly, wanting to do anything they could to rectify the damage that had already been caused.
Â“These leaves comes from a plant that is used as a powder sleeping drug, not tea leaves. How much did you put into the water?Â” Strider asked, looking back at Frodo who was now leaning very heavily against Sam, his body not able to remain upright. The symptoms were all there; lethargy, drowsiness, lack of response, tiredness and heaviness in the muscles of the limbs.
Â“I asked Sam and he said half a teaspoon full, but I didnÂ’t have that much in my hand at the time. I only shook what I had in my hand into the water,Â” Pippin declared, no longer able to hide back the tears. Â“Oh, please forgive me, Frodo.Â”
Â“I am grateful you did not, Master Pippin, for half a teaspoon of these leaves would have proved very costly to your older cousin. It might have been fatal,Â” he said, not wanting to overly scare them, but neither wanting to hide the truth of what an overdose might do to one much smaller than a man.
Â“Fatal!Â” Sam gasped as he was on the verge of tears himself. He still tried to get his master to hear his voice and open his eyes. Frodo tried his best to comply, but the sense of sleep was overwhelming. He just wanted to sleep. Â“But what can we do for him then, Mr. Strider?Â”
Â“There is much that we can do Samwise,Â” Strider declared, knowing that time was not on their side. He quickly walked back over to Frodo and took him from SamÂ’s grasp, pulling him inside a standing position, but still keeping a supporting arm around the hobbitÂ’s waist to preventing him collapsing again.
Â“Firstly, I need a few moments to prepare another drink that will help him expel the overdose in the tea. But I cannot allow him to fall asleep while I complete that task. Merry and Pippin, you must both take Frodo and help him to walk around this cave as much as possible. The movement will hopefully keep him awake long enough for me to prepare the other medicine to counteract the sedative.
Merry and Pippin quickly mustered on either side of their older cousinÂ’s side. Frodo seemed confused at why they were making him stand up when all he wanted to do was lay down and sleep. They each took am arm and supported his slight weight
evenly between them.
Â“N-no, d-donÂ’t want to s-stand,Â” Frodo protested weakly, his voice barely above a whisper. He made vain attempts to brush his cousins away, but lacked the energy to even lift his arm high enough to do so.
Â“Sam, I need you here to help me, and then I will need you further to administer the concoction to Frodo,Â” Strider instructed. By the sound of the word Â‘concoctionÂ’ Sam could only guess that his master was going to be none to pleased about whatever the remedy was going to be.
Â“Strider, he is barely able to stand, let along walk,Â” Merry said, as he and Pippin, pushed and pulled a resisting Frodo about the confided walls of the cave as best they could. FrodoÂ’s head drooped towards his chest and he made no attempt to lift it. His words of resistance were mumbled and incoherent when they were spoken.
The Ranger fought the desire to let the disoriented hobbit have his way and go back to sleep. He knew that allowing Frodo to do so, could very well mean going into a coma which might result in death.
Â“But walk he must, Merry. To prevent as much of the overdose as possible being absorbed into his stomach,Â” Strider warned them. Â“I know it is difficult, but you must try as long as you can. This experience will be none to pleasant for any of us, and more so for Frodo once I have this medicine prepared.Â”
Â“Why are you doing this to me? I want to sleep,Â” Frodo said pleaded in a thick voice, this time tears started to fall from his eyes. He felt as though he was in some strange nightmare that he couldnÂ’t release himself from. His mind a hazy blur and his body begging him to lie down, Frodo fell into his cousinÂ’s arms.
Merry nodded at StriderÂ’s warning and turned his attention back to Frodo just in time to see his cousin begin to limply fall to the ground in search of rest. Strengthening his grip on FrodoÂ’s shoulder and around his middle, he kept the other hobbit upright, in a sense, but for how much longer, he couldnÂ’t tell. Even the mumbling had ceased and Frodo appeared almost spent on his feet.
Â“Sam, see if you can help them further,Â” Strider said as he watched the two hobbits struggle to keep Frodo walking and moving. Sam didnÂ’t need any further convincing, on his feet at once, and assisting now taking PippinÂ’s place in helping support his master.
Â“Pippin, could you please fetch me a large bowl,Â” Strider instructed the hobbit, seeing he had been relieved by Sam. Â“I need a few wash clothes, some fresh water and some of those blankets we dried by the fire earlier,Â” he added, giving a list of what they were going to need.
Merry and Sam had managed as best they could to keep Frodo moving, and were now towards the back of the cave. Frodo was like a dead weight in their hands and was unable to help with the walking.
Â“Mr. Frodo, no,Â” Sam said, as he saw his master begin to sink to the ground once more. He wished there was more he could do. All his poor master wanted to do was sleep, but even rest was denied him at the moment while the overdose of the herb remained in his system.
Â“It is alright, Sam, let him sit on the floor. For what we are going to have to do now, it is best that it be done as far away from the eating and sleeping quarters as this cavern will permit,Â” Strider said as he approached the three hobbits. Pippin was coming with water and blankets as was asked. He laid them near Strider and waited for him to reveal the way they were going to help Frodo.
Â“It is not his fault, Sam, nor yours. That sedative is used on men twice his size and they are not able to stay awake under its influence either. The fact that you and Merry have been able to keep him from falling into a dangerously deep sleep until now is an achievement to you both,Â” Strider reassured the sandy-haired hobbit.
Â“What do you have there?Â” Sam asked, his curiosity quirked by the presence of the mug but more so by the dark black appearance of the liquid inside. How were they going to encourage Mr. Frodo to drink any of it when they couldnÂ’t get him to respond?
Â“A most unpleasant mixture I can assure you. Frodo will be none too thankful about my method to help him. But this is the most effective way for him to be rid of the overdose. Some of it will have already been absorbed by his system, but what has not can be rejected,Â” Strider explained.
Â“You mean that stuff will deliberately make him sick and throw up?Â” Merry asked, wrinkling his face at having to use such harsh methods on Frodo. He thought Strider was preparing a medicine he could merely drink and would cure him.
Â“That is the idea. I need you to hold the bowl. Sam you will need to support Frodo, for once he begins to comprehend what is happening, he will be most unco-operative and displeased with us. Pippin, I may need you to help Merry or Sam and hand me a damp cloth when the time calls for it.Â”
Sam blanched a little at the thought of his master having to endure more punishment than he already had. His masterÂ’s face was pale and although his eyes still fluttered open every now and then, the flickering was becoming more stagnant and infrequent. It wouldnÂ’t be long before Frodo would lose the battle with the sedative altogether.
Â“Frodo? Frodo?Â” Strider said as he gently tapped the side of the hobbitÂ’s face. His attempts brought a slight response, and he could see half-lidded blue eyes gazing back at him, but barely able to heed what was being said to him. Â“ThatÂ’s it, Frodo, you’re doing well. I need you to stay awake a little longer. For as long as you can. And I also need you to take this medicine.Â”
A brief nod came from Frodo, indicating that he had heard part of the instructions given. He allowed Strider to bring the cup to his mouth and began to sip slowly at the dark contents.
Â“You are doing well, Frodo,Â” Strider encouraged, the other hobbits not daring to say a word to their ill friend as they were able to detect the foul smell of the medicine being forced upon him. Â“Just a bit more now,Â” he added, not able to tell how much of the mixture Frodo had consumed. It would not take very much to work.
For the first few sips, the taste and smell of the medicine had yet to register with Frodo. His tongue was thick and for a few moments, was unable to detect the liquid trickling down his throat. But then, the consistency of the mixture and the taste hit him all at once, causing to gag on the small amount still in his mouth.
Frodo pulled his mouth away from the rim of the cup and turned his face away. Â“What in the world are youÂ…Â” he began to say, when he became aware of a cramping and tightening within his stomach. He stopped talking altogether and his eyes opened fully as he realised what was about to happen.
Â“Oh, ohÂ…Â” Frodo stammered as Merry placed the bowl beneath his cousinÂ’s grimaced face. For the next few moments, all could only watch with sympathy and compassion as Frodo vomited over and over into the bowl, expelling the tea and the black mixture that he had drunk.
When the vomiting appeared to have ceased, Frodo sagged against SamÂ’s shoulder, scarcely able to form a word of protest at the treatment that was being afforded to him. He didnÂ’t know why they were doing this to him, but he wanted to tell them all to leave him alone.
Pippin handed Strider a damped cloth upon signal, and the Ranger gently wiped the hobbits face. A fresh cloth was used on his face, but the hobbit was still too pale and beginning to tremble from the exertion.
Just when they thought Frodo would throw up no more, the cramping and tightening of his stomach muscles persisted once more. With nothing left in his stomach to bring up, the hobbit retched painfully and horribly until he had not an ounce of strength left. It was Sam who made sure that his head was held well above the rim of the basin.
Strider helped take Frodo from Sam, clearly seeing that it was difficult to for them all so see Frodo in such anguish and misery. Â“Sam, take them over to the fire and allow them to rest. I will attend to Frodo,Â” he whispered softly.
Sam nodded his head, knowing that Strider would take the very best care of his master. Frodo remained still and silent, Sam could only hope that his master would be well again after StriderÂ’s unusual medicine. He rubbed FrodoÂ’s cold hands with his own, hoping that Frodo would respond long enough for him to ask for their forgiveness for how they were treating him.
Merry, together with much of SamÂ’s help guided Pippin back towards the fire. The youngest of the hobbits was drowning in his own guilt and couldnÂ’t seem to bring himself to believe that Frodo would forgive him for such a mistake. He thought the same from the other companions, but upon looking up at Merry and Sam saw only empathy and soothing words to his ears.
Sam seated Merry against the wall were Frodo had been sitting, using the blankets that were still warm from the fire. Pippin sat beside him and lay his head on his cousinÂ’s lap, tears still falling down his face.
Merry looked pale and concerned about Frodo, but gave whatever comfort he could muster to Pippin who was finding it difficult to cope. He gently rubbed the tweenagerÂ’s back in a circular pattern feeling the tension that was present in the small shoulder blades.
Sam mistakenly went to ask Merry if he would like a cup of tea to help calm himself or Pippin, but immediately berated himself for such a remark. Merry had shrunk away from the idea of ever using a tea mug again and Sam had quickly covered his erred words by taking the pot of poisoned tea to discard the contents and scrub it clean.
In the small partitioned area of the cave, deemed for sleeping quarters, Strider lay a sleeping Frodo down on the beds that Sam had already prepared earlier to pass the time.
The blankets were a little cooler than the ones by the fire, but they would soon suit just fine. He knelt beside Frodo, and felt the hobbitÂ’s pulse. It was weaker than usual, but regular now.
FrodoÂ’s hands felt slightly chilled still to the Ranger as he did his best to make the hobbit comfortable. He was relieved when passing his hand over the parted lips and felt the slow steady warm breath tickle his palm. There was very little he could
do now that the nastiness of making Frodo sick had been carried out.
Strider was hopeful that the majority of the overdose was now expelled and that it was only the lingering effects that caused FrodoÂ’s sleep to be so deep. He would keep a very close vigil over him tonight to make sure there were no further complications from either the overdose or the herb ingested to cause vomiting.
Strider trickled a little fresh, but warm water down the unconscious hobbitÂ’s throat, pleased to see the muscles work. He did this in slow sips to avoid Frodo choking, hoping that the temperature of the water would not shock the hobbit enough to startle
With all of the blankets now dry, there were plenty for use and Strider draped a second one around FrodoÂ’s shoulders before leaving him sleep. Apart from the victim, there were some other hobbits nearby that demanded attention as well, even though they might not admit to it.
Sam had been sitting with his chin resting on his knees, waiting for news. He had attempted to help twice and was gently pushed back towards the other two hobbits and making sure they were cared for. It was also so that Strider could work alone.
Â“Is he alright?Â” Sam blurted out, unable to contain the question for more than a second.
Â“He is sleeping very deeply now, and he is warm,Â” Strider informed them, looking towards Merry and Pippin as he spoke. He could see they had recovered a little from had happened, but were still anxious and edgy for confirmation that no harm had befallen their cousin.
Â“I thought that sleeping was dangerous?Â” Merry asked, remembering that was exactly what Strider hadnÂ’t wanted Frodo to do when they had discovered the contaminated tea. Pippin had been on the verge of falling asleep, but upon hearing StriderÂ’s footsteps and the question from Merry, was alert enough to be part of the conversation.
Â“Yes, initially, but it was unavoidable given the nature of the herb that was induced. Let me take the time to explain,Â” he the said, seeing the pleading eyes from Pippin who was desperate to understand the nature of what he had done by mistake.
Â“The plant you found in my pack, Pippin, is a very old genus, only found in certain ancient forests. It grows quickly and only produced seeds once a year. The root itself is of very limited benefit, but the leaves, either consumed dried, fresh or crushed
into a pulp contain a very concentrated sedative,Â” the Ranger began.
Â“We were unlucky that Pippin chose the wrong pouch, but fortunate that he was unskilled enough only to sprinkle a few leaves into the water and not more. A full leaf for hobbit sized person would probably prove fatal or at least cause the victim to fall into a coma,Â” Strider continued.
Â“How can you say that anything I did was fortunate?Â” Pippin asked with his eyes downcast. Â“I was so foolish and ready to prove how adept I was that I almost cost Frodo his life.Â”
Â“I am to blame as much as you, Pippin, for it was me that instructed you to go to my backpack in the first place. I should have inspected which bag you chose or at least aided you in reading the labels. They are written in Elvish,Â” Strider said to ease the young hobbitÂ’s guilt.
Â“Yes, I noticed that too,Â” Pippin said quietly, not fully believing that Strider could blame himself for the error.
Strider might have asked Pippin to go to the bag, but it was not the Ranger would thought himself beyond needing assistance or advice in reading the foreign symbols to identify the contents. And it was not Strider who had deemed himself able to distinguish between tea leaves and those of a sedating plant.
Â“Do you wish to learn, Master Pippin?Â” Strider asked simply. He needed a way to prevent such a mistake from being made in the future, but also to help Pippin with his sense of belonging with the group. A task would need to be found that the hobbit could apply himself to physically and mentally.
Â“Learn what? Do you mean about herbs and plants?Â” Pippin asked, a little surprised at the generous offer. Â“Unfortunately I am not like Sam, and not able to tell them apart at all it would seem.Â”
Â“All the more reason for you to learn and be instructed properly, my dear hobbit,Â” Strider said with a smile. Â“I had to learn as well, and I was instructed by one of the most learned, Lord Elrond of Rivendell.Â”
Pippin considered this statement carefully for a moment. He and the other hobbits had become accustomed to StriderÂ’s many talents and skills as a Ranger. That including the use and knowledge of herbs and he had not thought that such skill had to be first acquired and learned and then practiced and refined.
Â“You would teach me?Â” he asked humbly, but with a small smile on his face. He knew that Strider would not make such an offer to anyone. Upon reflection he added something further, Â“What would you teach me?Â”
Â“Herbs and Plants. I could show you the medicinal uses of many and the beneficial and harmful effects they can have on men and hobbits. Sam, I know, would be kind enough to instruct you for the culinary uses as well. Many edible herbs and plants are also used in cookery, that is mostly how their medicinal usage was first discovered.
Â“Do you think I could learn, Strider?Â” Pippin asked, his mood becoming more animated as he thought about what he would learn.
Many people concerned him unteachable. Some of the school instructors in Tuckborough had even been so bold as to suggest to his father Paladin that he needed independent tutorage. They never realised that with careful guidance in the right direction, the young Took would flourish in any chosen subject. He wasnÂ’t a simpleton
and Frodo had often defended him against others for that very reason.
Â“I am sure you will make an excellent student, Pippin,Â” Strider said with a small laugh, noting that PippinÂ’s excitement about his new found interest. If you donÂ’t, then I will be forced to voice my grieves to your older cousin.Â”
PippinÂ’s smile faded a little at the mention of his cousin once more. Â“Is he really going to be alright?” He looked towards where he could see FrodoÂ’s sleeping form on the blankets, almost hidden from view from the partitioning wall of rock.
Â“The herbs did send him to sleep, and no doubt it will last many hours because of FrodoÂ’s slight build, but he should wake with very few ill effects. With the rest of this day resting and tonight, we should be able to travel in the morning. Although his cave provides shelter from the weather, I do not wish to linger here any longer than we must.Â”
Â“What will he say when he learns the truth, Strider?Â” Pippin asked softly, the one question that he had wanted to ask most of all. He looked over at Merry and Sam, trying to guess if they were judging him as well.
Â“A mistake can be made by any one of us, Pippin,Â” Strider stated. Â“Frodo will not think less of you or think that you need punishment unjustly.Â”
The three hobbits and the Ranger shared a simple meal that evening, talking quietly, but the conversation never really settling on one particular subject of serious discussion.
Strider had excused himself frequently from their company to check on Frodo. Sam had remained with his master whilst allowing Strider to eat his own meal without disruption.
The hobbits took to their beds gratefully that night, a little apprehension in the knowledge that the journey was to begin once again in the morning. Strider kept his vigil over them all, but especially Frodo. The hobbit never felt any of the RangerÂ’s administrations or stirred at any stage. He slept cocooned between his two cousins and Sam, in the very safest company.
The dawning of a new day was a welcome site to Strider, as the sunlight began to peek through the trees and filter a few feet into the cave. The air was damp with moisture from the night before, but the temperature was mild and the clouds were now floating away with the breeze.
Merry, Sam and Pippin had been up rather early, prepared to leave as soon as Frodo woke and was deemed well enough to travel. Strider now went to gently wake the dark-haired hobbit to see how he felt. It was now two hours after the sun had begun to rise.
Frodo reluctantly opened his eyes as Strider gently shook his shoulder. He waited until the hobbit gained his bearings a little more before asking him about his health.
The hobbit parted his lips and his tongue licked at his parched lips as he slowly opened his eyes. His vision blurred a little by the over-dose, was still good enough to make out the slow forming features of the man sitting near him.
Â“Welcome back, sleepyhead,Â” Strider whispered and let his hand fall to the hobbitÂ’s cheek. FrodoÂ’s face scrunched into a grimace and his left hand came up out of his covers to rub at the back of his groggy head. He still didnÂ’t speak, only a groan coming up out of his dry throat.
Strider provided a cup of water, which the hobbit drank from. He took in what he wanted and let his head fall back to the pillow behind him, created by his travelling cloak.
It was after that Strider saw the FrodoÂ’s lips form a scowl. He smiled to himself though as he watched a mix of emotions play out on the pale face. The blue eyes playing witness to them all and emphasising each expression.
At first their was clearly confusion about the time that had been lost from his last conscious and coherent thought until now. Frodo frowned and tried to think when that had been. The confusion gave way to a grimace, probably the result of some
lingering stiffness in his limbs from the sedative.
Frodo now sensed a new, stranger feeling in his body. Not pain, or an ache that he could lay name to. Rather, an uncomfortable sensation in his stomach. And then all at once, he seemed to recall being violently ill over and over again because of
something he had been forced to drink.
He looked up to see Strider regarding him curiously and he remembered that it had been him that had made him drink such a concoction. The reason for such harsh treatment escaping him entirely.
The normally placid blue eyes, darkened a few shades and the frown deepened as a look of accusation crossed over his handsome features. StriderÂ’s smile widened as he recognized an annoyed hobbit when he saw one.
Â“How do you feel?Â” the Ranger asked, but figured Frodo was fixing to tell him soon anyway. He knew an angered Baggins when he saw one.
Â“How do I feel?Â” Frodo shot back, sarcasm coating his words. Â“Well, my stomach is killing me, my throat hurts, and I think I have pneumonia. Does that answer the question good enough?Â”
Sam, Merry and Pippin has appeared behind Strider, just in time to hear the controlled anger in FrodoÂ’s voice. Each of them winced, knowing that it was not usual to see the gentlehobbit addressing another in such a way.
Pippin was the first to break through and fall at FrodoÂ’s feet, imploring forgiveness and hugging his pale cousin fiercely. Â“Oh, Frodo, I am so glad to see you awake. Please, please forgive me cousin. I had no right meddling in things I did not understand.Â”
Frodo was a little surprised at the reaction his words caused in his youngest cousin. The annoyance he had felt had quickly departed as he hugged Pippin back, concerned at the tears that he could see falling down the youngsters face.
Â“Hush now, Pip, I am not that cross with anyone,Â” Frodo said, running his hand through the wayward, straw coloured curls. He know searched the faces of his companions for an explanation for why Pippin was in such a distressed state and why he felt so odd and uncomfortable this morning.
Â“Pippin made a mistake in choosing the leaves for that tea you drank yesterday,Â” Strider began the story. Â“The leaves from were a very potent sedative. We needed to make you walk around to try and counteract its effects. We did not know how much you had consumed and were fearful that you might fall into deep enough sleep that you may never have awoken from.Â”
Frodo eyes widened at such a statement, and then realised that Pippin must have been blaming himself and feeling very badly about what he had done. Â“Is that why I still feel so nauseous?Â” he asked gingerly, noting that the cramping was still present, but had improved with the small amount of water he had drunk.
Â“It was necessary to ensure that your system did not absorb anymore of the herb and I administered a thick black liquid from a crushed up root. It is used to cause vomiting. I apologize for such harsh methods being used without your consent, but they were necessary at the time. You should be feeling a lot better now than you were and should suffer no ill effects,Â” Strider explained.
Remorse for his unsavoury comments upon waking now grew within Frodo and he needed to make an apology. Â“I am sorry for my lack of tact when speaking with you a few minutes ago, Strider.Â” he stated. He felt bad about giving the Ranger such a hard time about what he had done to keep him awake.
Strider reached over and squeezed his hand. “I took no offence at your words, Frodo. I know it was a very awful experience for you. I am sure I would have thought the same things if I had been subjected to such remedies.Â”
With all matters sorted and Frodo feeling a little more like himself, Merry and Sam took it upon themselves to show their master and cousin with more fussing before announcing that breakfast was to be shared by all.
Frodo looked at Pippin and new that there was still some unresolved matters to help the tweenager come to believe that there was trust between them still. He thought for a moment about what had happened and what would need to rectify the situation. Then the idea came to him.
Â“Sam, if you wouldnÂ’t mind, I would like you to boil some water for my tea,Â” he said, watching PippinÂ’s face as he spoke. The young hobbit began to downcast his eyes to the floor as he thought that Frodo wouldnÂ’t want him helping again anytime soon.
Â“Of course, Mr. Frodo,Â” Sam said, a little surprised that Frodo would be asking for tea again so soon. Â“I will make it right away.Â”
Â“No, Sam, I donÂ’t want you to make it. I just ask that you put the water on to boil. I would like Pippin to make the tea this morning,Â” he said, a smile creeping over his face as he watched his young cousinÂ’s face light up with eagerness.
Â“You mean you want Â‘meÂ’ to make your tea?Â” he asked, scarcely able to believe that Frodo had such faith in him. Â“Even after what happened?Â” he added, desperately wanting to believe that he had been forgiven.
Â“Even after what happened,Â” Frodo said honestly, taking PipÂ’s hands in his own and giving them a squeeze for reassurance. This simple gesture wasnÂ’t enough for Pippin and he returned it with a second hug around his cousin. Unable to show his
relief and gratitude any other way.
Â“Oh, Frodo, thank you, thank you. I wonÂ’t disappoint you again. I promise,Â” Pippin declared and then hurried off, even taking over SamÂ’s assigned task of filling the pot with water to boil.
Strider, Sam and Merry all smiled at Frodo as they realised that he had just given Pippin a very generous gift indeed. He had taught Pippin that mistakes could be made and forgiven. A very clever hobbit they thought to themselves, and the very best friend to accept that the tweenager need guidance, not distrust or punishment.
Strider reminded them all that once they had eaten, they would need to be starting their walking again soon. Frodo stood with caution and noted a little unsteadiness in his step, but there was no dizziness and his muscles had lost their heavy feeling.
Sam and Pippin hadnÂ’t realised that they were holding their breaths as they watched for any signs that Frodo might falter in his step. They waited until it appeared that he was alright that they allowed themselves to exhale slowly in relief.
Halfway through breakfast, with everyone watching each mouthful of food or liquid that he consumed, Frodo broke the slight tension around the fire by enquiring about the day of walking ahead.
Â“Which route will we travel today, Strider?Â” Frodo asked, pleased to see the interest in what he was doing diverted for a moment and focused on the Ranger.
Â“The forest is our best course at the moment, Frodo. We can use it to keep ourselves shaded as we walk and it will also conceal us from any dangers that might prevent itself. We will follow the river as he meanders towards Bree,Â” Strider answered.
Frodo tried to map out the area in his mind for a moment to recall which river they would follow. Â“The Brandywine River,Â” he said with a lump forming in his throat at the mention of that particular water way.
Merry had almost announced the name at the same moment as his cousin, Â“The Brandywine River.Â” Merry had fond memories of the river, but as he exchanged looks with Frodo, knowing there were ghosts about it that his cousin would rather leave alone.
Â“Is there no other way, Strider?Â” Frodo found himself asking in a whisper, unable to his apprehension at the prospect of coming face to face with the very place that had stolen the lives of his parents so many years away.
Â“We have very little other paths through the forest, Frodo, does this present a problem to you?Â” Strider asked gently, noting a nervousness that had only appeared at the mention of the river. It wasnÂ’t quite the fear and terror that he had displayed when suggesting having to shelter beneath a tree during a storm.
Â“N-no, that route will be f-fine,Â” Frodo said with as much courage as he could manage. But those around him could see him struggle to keep from revealing his true thoughts. His expressive blue eyes, darkening and holding secrets that he had longed to suppress.
Once the group was packed and ready to travel, Strider took a momentÂ’s opportunity to pull Merry aside, with Sam also wanting to hear what was being said. Pippin was certain he already knew the reason behind FrodoÂ’s reluctance at going near the Brandywine River.
Â“Why does the river present as an obstacle for Frodo?Â” the Ranger asked, knowing that it might prove vital to know if their path became more perilous.
Â“The Brandywine River is where FrodoÂ’s parents, Drogo and Primula were drowned when he was 12 years old. Frodo has never ventured very close to it since, unless absolutely necessary.Â”
Strider watched Frodo who had walked a few metres away from the others. He had already been informed about the hobbitÂ’s unfortunate orphanage at a young age. Bilbo had not wanted to go into further detail to avoid upsetting the lad.
Sam couldnÂ’t help but feel a silent chill work its way up his spine as he straightened the pack on his back and hurried to catch up with his master and continue their journey towards Bree.
TO BE CONTINUED
Responses to Reviews:
Kat…aka…chickloveslotr – so glad you are liking the story Â– I definitely intend on continuing it. Please keep reading.
Iorhael Â– Sorry, a little more hurt Frodo in this one Â– canÂ’t help myself. They have started the journey, but it will be a long and different road. Please keep letting me know your enjoying.
lovethosehobbits Â– I am so glad you are thoroughly enjoying the story and grateful that you have taken the time to review. There will be lots of weavings between canon, the movies and my own ideas. The new scenes will begin to become more and more frequent now that I have started the journey. And to have you say that I am adding
to the story that is already created makes my heart swell, for I wish to take nothing away from the wonderful JRR Tolkien.
For anyone else that reviewed I truly appreciate every one of them. And to those who sent private reviews I thank you also that you took the time to do so.
Author Notes: A new chapter and a new leg in the journey towards Bree. I apologize for the length of time since the last update but my writing time has been severely limited. This chapter was quite complicated in content and took a little while to get exactly how I wanted it.
For all the Pippin fans out there, please know that I intended no extensive harm to come to him from the herb overdose. I needed somehow for Frodo to consume the overdose, and the tea and PippinÂ’s naÃ¯ve mistake was the concept that I used.
The entire herb overdose scene is thanks to a writer of incredible talent, my friend Wrangler. The story is from a different fandom and the overdose in her story was sleeping powders deliberately put in coffee to cause the death of the unsuspecting victim. I adapted it for this chapter. Wrangler, your story Â‘RequiemÂ’ gave me so much inspiration and I humbly thank you for being able to use one idea for your wonderful writing.
I envisage this story to have a further two chapters before it will close and the epic saga continue with the story Â“A Spy in RivendellÂ”. These two chapters will be quite lengthy though, with much to happen with our travellers approaching the Brandywine River and Bree and then onto Weathertop.
There have been quite a couple of people to thank for their insight and patience with this chapter. They are humbly revered for the great deeds that they do and I thank them for keeping up the enthusiasm so far and having the ability to see where these stories are headed.
Please read and review and let me know if you are enjoying this story or not.
Now the journey turns another page will soon continue Â…Â…Â…Â…Â…Â…..