Gift of the Valar - Chapter 7: The Only Choice
The gaffer, Farmer Cotton, Bilbo and the Miller Sandyman rode their own ponies through the tail of the storm....leading Sam's pony in hopes it would take them to the boys. The Hobbit men stopped their ponies at the top of the ridge and looked down upon the ghastly sight below. Some 200 feet down the slope the remains of the cart lay twisted and broken. From their vantage point, they could not see where the boys lie, but all four feared the worst.
"Sweet Arda" Bilbo whispered, shaken by the sight "they cannot a'survived this." With a heavy heart he turned to the Gaffer "They cannot of...".
The Gaffer set his mouth in a thin line "Only one way to know Mr. Bilbo." The hobbits dismounted from their ponies, tied them to nearby trees and fastened belaying ropes to stumps near to the edge they began to work their way down the treacherous slope.. Grabbing their packs; with what supplies they'd managed to place in them in their haste to leave, they made their way down the steep hill.
As they reached the cart, Bilbo who was first down, noticed the two prone shapes, half buried in snow, that protruded from the cart. "Hamfast" he yelled " I see 'em...they're over here" he gestured. Bilbo made his way through the heavy snow with the Gaffer at his heels. He knealt by Sam's side as he saw his eyes begin to open...he noted the bloodied bandage about the boy's head "easy lad....don't move...help's here" he paused to look to the Gaffer "praise be, he's alive Hamfast"....Bilbo moved to Frodo's side and tried to wake him " Frodo lad....wake up my boy...help's here" he said frantically.
The Gaffer, who was by now sitting next to Sam, wrapping his littlest boy in his biggest hug saw the blood upon the snow..."Easy Sam...sit up lad, can ye tell us what happened? Are ye much hurt lad?" Sam looked to his Da gratefully "Oh Da, we gotta get Mr. Frodo outta here...he's bad hurt" and he briefly described the events of the night before.
Gaffer turned to Bilbo, who was rubbing Frodo's hands and trying to awaken him...."He's lost a lot of blood and Sam says his leg is pinned fast in the wreckage...mayhap you want to let him be until we get him out...it's gonna be right painful from the look a'things." The Gaffer gestured to the blood on the snow and digging in the snow a bit was able to show Bilbo where the injury lie. Bilbo's face paled at the view before him "What do we do Hamfast?" he asked weakly.
"We get him out" he said and started ordering the Miller and Farmer Cotton to gather more logs and another wedging branch. Bilbo ripped Frodo's remaining nightshirt into more bandages and Sam sat by waiting to see where he could help best. The Gaffer set everyone a task, the Miller and Farmer Cotton were to wedge the logs under the cart as the Gaffer moved it up off of Frodo, Sam and Bilbo were to steady Frodo in case he awoke.
The Gaffer started to slowly push and bit by bit the cart was lifted into the air. As the Gaffer lifted, Frodo suddenly started awake from the pain and Bilbo reached down to comfort him." Shhh my lad, I know it hurts...be brave..it'll be over soon" he said with a shaky voice. Frodo looked up with tears in his eyes and nodded silently.
Finally the cart was up enough for the Gaffer and Sam to crawl beneath and examine the wounded leg. "Ned" the Gaffer yelled to the Miller "hand me my wood axe from me pack....I'll need to cut through the wood to release the leg...Bilbo...ye'll have to hold on to Mr. Frodo tight...and Frodo lad, do yer very best not ta move yer leg son" Frodo nodded as Bilbo squeezed his hand.Frodo's body tensed with the pain and he arched his back to try and fight the urge to move his leg..."Shhh lad....we're almost there" Bilbo whispered.
The Gaffer took just a few strokes of his axe to free the wood from the cart.Frodo's body relaxed and Bilbo could feel the tension leave him as his nephew relaxed his hold upon his hand. Sam re-wrapped the leg and held it steady as he, his Da and the Miller carefully pulled Frodo from under the wreckage at last.
The Gaffer examined the leg and looking up to Bilbo, who was stroking his nephews hair said " the wood's gotta come our Mr. Bilbo...he can't travel like this."
Bilbo looked to Frodo's leg, a piece of wood two fingers thick and about a foot and a half long stuck through his leg above his knee...he nodded tight lipped to the Gaffer. He turned back to talk with his young charge "Frodo lad, it's gotta come out my boy" he said tensely " I know Uncle" Frodo whispered weakly. "Lad, it's...it's gonna hurt some" Bilbo said with his voice breaking as he tried to sound brave. Frodo looked to him with tears in his eyes " I'll try not to fuss" he whispered and swallowed his pain.
Bilbo looked down at the trembling lad and said with growing strength in his words "You fuss whatever amount you need to Frodo Baggins...there's no one here to hear you...I'll help hold ye my boy". The Gaffer directed the Miller and Farmer Cotton to hold Frodo down at the hips and Sam at his other leg. Sam gave his friend the leather strap he'd used the night before and giving his friend's good shoulder a squeeze, positioned himself by his Da to hold down Frodo's leg. The Gaffer looked up into Frodo's blue eyes "Ye ready lad?" Frodo closed his eyes, took a deep breath and opening his eyes again said "yes sir" and tried to ready himself for the pain.
The Gaffer took a deep breath and began to wiggle the wood to work it out of the leg. Frodo's whole body tensed in response to the pain. The men tightened their grips and held him down as Bilbo tried to find sounds to comfort him..."shh lad...let it go" he urged. Frodo moaned and thrashed his head back and forth violently as he ached his back trying to rid himself of the agony. "Can you go no faster man" Bilbo hissed to the Gaffer. The Gaffer said "I can not risk splintering the wood by going at it to fast..."
Frodo moaned and bit the leather, tears in his eyes.
The Gaffer looked to Frodo's face and gave the wood one last quick pull. Frodo could stand it no more...his body convulsed and the men had to lean upon him to still the shaking of the young hobbit's body as he let out a blood chilling scream, shook his head from side to side and let his eyes roll back into his head. "Praise Arda" Bilbo whispered "he'll feel no more."
The Miller rose to his feet and walking to Bilbo said "That's a strong lad ye got there Baggins....never saw such courage" he said huskily as he grasped Bilbo's shoulder " Thanks for your help Ned...." Bilbo's voice was weak
" So much pain" the Miller continued " and so little fuss...I wish me Ted had the strength of yer young'in." Bilbo turned to the Miller "May we never again have to witness such courage....never" he said hotly as he wiped a tear from his eye and the sweat from Frodo's brow.
The Gaffer was examining Frodo as Sam wrapped his leg tightly with clean dressings. "He's got a few more broke ribs and this here shoulder...." the Gaffer gestured to the shoulder that Sam had thought was dislocated. "Can you set the shoulder Hamfast?" Bilbo asked.
"Like as not I can, and bind the ribs too....I'll need me afew more strips of cloth." The Gaffer said. Bilbo rummaged in his pack and brought out the bandages he'd brought with him. The Gaffer positioned Frodo's arm and with a dull 'pop' was able to realign the shoulder. Then, he carefully sat him up and with Sam's help bound the ribs as best he could over the lad's clothing.
Bilbo went back to his pack and took out a flask of brandy...he took a nip himself before offering it to the other hobbit men. He looked to Sam and then the Gaffer. At the Gaffers quiet nod Bilbo extended the flask to Sam..."You've had a man's time of it these past few hours Samwise...have a bit of what some men look to ease their shaking knees and worried hearts."
Sam took the flask and took the tinest of sips before exploding in a coughing fit. The hobbit men found themselves laughing at poor Sam's introduction to the world of Brandy. The Gaffer, who was examining Sam's head injury and re-wrapping it, ruffled his matted sandy curls "it'll grow on ye some day me lad."
Bilbo, Farmer Cotton and the Gaffer were discussing the best way to get Frodo to the top of the hill, now that they'd stablized his injuries. Bilbo was worried that carrying him would cause too much pain " Look here Mr. Bilbo" Farmer Cotton said " If we make a sled of sorts it'll take too long...I think the boys've been out in this here cold long enough" he said as he gestured to the blue tinge of Frodo's lips and Sam's now trembling body. Ned Sandyman spoke up "I'll carry 'em Bilbo....I'm the biggest and he's just a mite...I'll get him up the hill right quick and I'll be just as gentle as I can with the lad" he finished softly seeing Bilbo's worried expression.
And so they made their way up the hill, the Gaffer helping Sam, Ned Sandyman with Frodo's body over his shoulder and Bilbo walking next to him...and Farmer Cotton bringing up the rear. Blessedly Frodo did not regain consciousness for the remainder of the trip and rode wrapped in a blanket nestled in Bilbo's lap. Sam was wrapped in a blanket and placed before the Gaffer. He was grateful to be in the protection of his Da's arms and found himself nodding off as they slowly approached Hobbiton. He did not even awaken as he was helped down from the pony into the crying arms of his Mam.
Sam was ill for several weeks after their adventure. His prolonged exposure to the cold, head wound and trauma of what he'd endured weakened him enough that he didn't have the strength to fight off the pnemonia that found it's way into his lungs. He coughed and lay sick with fever for nearly a week before he was really aware of his surroundings.
Prody Goodfellow was there tending to him when he awoke late one winter afternoon to the sounds of the healer speaking to his Gaffer. "That's a sturdy lad you got there Hamfast...strong constitution...I imagine he'll be outa bed in a day or two now that the fever's broke."
"How's young Mr. Frodo doing?" Sam heard the Gaffer asking.
"Well" said Prody "He lost a lot of blood and didn't have near as much strength as your Sam to begin with." The healer lowered his voice "I've tried to prepare Bilbo as best I could....but if I can't get the fever down from the infection in his leg soon...well, he won't last the week." he finished sadly. "Breaks me heart to see Bilbo caught up in this sadness...just when that lad brought some life to the poor dear hobbit." Prody's voice gradually faded.
Sam couldn't help it, his sobs took all in the room by surprise. The Gaffer came quickly to his bedside and taking his hand said "ye heard that did ye?" Sam cried and nodded. "There, there lad...old Prody's got a few tricks left and you know that Mr. Frodo's been full o'nothing if not surprises....it'd be nothing less than amazing if he didn't find another way to surprise us now." Sam nodded wordlessly and wiped his hand across his teary eyes.
"Can I go ta him Da?" he asked huskily. The Gaffer looked to Old Prody and awaited his signal. The healer came over and examined his patient, then nodded.
"Let me help ye dress lad and I'll go with ya" the Gaffer said. "I believe I'm due up there now myself....we'll all go" said the healer.
Within the hour the tree of them made their way slowly up the hill to Bag End. Sam was weak form his sickness and was grateful for the help from the hobbit's who'd positioned themselves on either side of 'em.
The Gaffer knocked on the door of Bag End and to everyone's surprise it was answered by none other than Gandalf the wizard.
"Come in...come in Samwise...my poor boy you look as if you're about to topple over...sit here while I go get Bilbo." Sam stood a moment, awkwardly in the entryway. He heard Gandalf's voice from the distance " Samwise I said to sit my boy." The Gaffer led Sam to the Kitchen. Where they sat and waited for Bilbo.
A few moments later Bilbo and Gandalf came in. The wizard had to stoop low to avoid hitting his head on one of the many elaborate crossbeams of the hobbit hole. Bilbo came to Sam and clasped a hand to his shoulder "Welcome my boy...good to see you up and about at least." he sad sadly. The elder hobbit looked tired and worn, Sam could see it'd been many nights since he'd gotten a good night's rest.
"How is he?" Sam asked anxiously..."Can I go to him?"
Bilbo sighed deeply and looked first to Prody and then back to Sam before saying "He's very ill Sam...his leg has taken an infection that he's too weak to shake I'm afraid..."
Prody interjected "The leg is the source of the illness, if ye'd only let me..." Bilbo rapidly cut off Prody's last words "A choice I've not had the heart to make I'm afraid Prody...I keep hoping for a miricle I'm afraid" he finished sadly.
Sam was confused "What choice?" he asked. Bilbo looked at Sam with tears in his eyes "Prody feels he can save Frodo..." Sam was overjoyed "that's a wonder" he said happily..."if he takes his leg" Bilbo finished quietly.
Sam was horrified " 'take his leg' he thought and then said "Mr. Frodo is no cripple."
"My thoughts as well Samwise" Bilbo said with great sadness.
Prody got up from the table...."I'll go examine him again...but I dare not wait much beyond morning Bilbo." and left the room.
Bilbo tiredly rested his head upon his arms and waved the healer out of the room as Sam got up to follow himto Mr. Frodo's room.
The room looked dim in the waning light of the winter afternoon amd Sam took a minute to make out the figure upon the bed. Frodo was so pale and slight looking, laid out beneath many layers of quilts and blankets. His hands were resting upon the covers and his dark curls were lank with sweat. Sam stepped closer. He noted the sunken cheeks and black circles beneath his eyes.
Old Prody was lifting the covers and changing the dressings on Frodo's leg. As he unwrapped the last layer of bandages a putrid and foul odor filled the room. Sam looked to the wound with disgust. The leg was swollen to nearly twice it's normal size, the skin was mottled purple and white with angry red welts running the length of it. A sickly yellow fluid oozed from the wound itself. Sam felt as though he might be sick but quickly controlled his queasiness.
Frodo was not conscious but moaned and clenched his fists each time Prody touched his leg. Sam was suddenly afraid for his friend and felt a lump in his throat as he tried not to cry. "Sam...hand me those bandages well ye lad?" the healer asked. Sam, startled out of his sorrow brought them over quickly. "There's a good lad" Prody said.
Sam stared at his friend "Are ya really meaning to take off his leg then?" he asked in a scared voice. "I'm running out of ideas my boy, I've lanced the infection daily, treated it with herbs and infusions, packed it with warm compresses...nothing is working and your Mr. Frodo is running out of time" he mused.
"Can I do anything to help?" Sam whispered.
"Talk with him lad and cool his fever with these cool cloths while I go and try to talk some sense into that foolish hobbit in the kitchen " Prody grumped as he left the room.
Sam sat himself on the side of Mr. Frodo's bed...the slight shift of his weight caused a grimace of pain to cross his friend's face. "Mr. Frodo" Sam whispered urgently "wake up sir...ya need to wake up...we need ta see ya getting better sir...if ye want to walk again...run to the river with me....climb a tree or ta visit with the elves sir...you need to put yur heart in it sir...try to wake up...please?!" Sam begged his friend as he brushed the dark damp curls from his face.
Frodo sighed deeply "you've come Sam" he whispered quietly "I've waited for you."
"Waited for me sir?" Sam whispered in return.
"Waited for a sign Sam" he opened his blue eyes and Sam could see they were swollen and dull with pain "I can not live with this pain Sam...I waited for you...to say good bye for I find myself wishing for death." he whispered hoarsely.
"No sir..."Sam insisted loudly "We'll find a way outta this...hang on to me sir" Sam said as he held out his hand to Frodo.
Frodo sighed deeply and holding Sam's hand said "They mean to take my leg don't they?"
Sam wanted to bring his friend only words of comfort but knew he could not lie. "Yes sir, Old Prody says it's the only way" he said miserably.
"Why do they wait?" Frodo mumbled thickly.
"Well sir, Mr. Bilbo is having some trouble...he don't want to be responsible for making a bad choice."
Frodo nodded ever so slightly "Poor Bilbo, he does not want to bring me more pain..." he laughed weakly " he feels I've been through enough I suppose....I am starting to agree with him." Just then Sam shifted his weight slightly and brushed against Frodo's leg. Frodo went white and he clenched Sam's hand in agony.
"Oh Mr. Frodo, I'm so sorry...let me move me clumsy self away from ye"
"No Sam" Frodo gasped "the pain will subside in a moment" he said with eyes clenched closed.
"please sir,let me move away so I don't go hurt'in ye again." Sam pleaded.
"No Sam" Frodo said and he squeezed Sam's hand even tighter....then he opened his eyes and looked to his friend and smiled weakly. He starting laughing a tired little laugh which went on a few moments. Sam was just thinking he best go to get the healer....worried that perhaps Mr. Frodo was becoming delirious from the pain when Frodo stopped laughing and said seriously. "You are my sign Sam."
"Whatever do you mean sir?" Sam asked confused.
Frodo took a deep breath "The pain of having you by my side, even when you jostled my leg, is not nearly so bad as the pain of being without you....don't you see Sam, I can't let go of life...let go of you. " He paused and smiled as he looked in his friend's eyes "I'll find a life with meaning whether I've got one leg or two."
Sam looked at Frodo with tears starting in his eyes as Frodo continued " The value of a life is not found in judging it's quality by what has been done in the past...but in what you can do with it's future....in using the gifts you have the best way you can." Frodo was tired after his speech and rested a moment before continuing. "I'm ready to end the pain Sam...not my life....go get Prody and Bilbo."
Sam gently got up from the bed, causing Frodo to wince in pain "I'm sorry sir" Sam whispered. Frodo stared at his friend a moment " I'm not" he said in reply then shut his eyes to rest.