The Gift of Iluvatar - Part 1 - of 3
By Ariel (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rating: PG-13 for high angst
Warnings: This fic contains no slash and is strictly canonical to Tolkien's work. No archiving without permission of the author.
Disclaimer: The characters are Tolkien's - I make no profit but my own pleasure from using them in fiction.
Story description: From the fall at Mount Doom to Sam's waking at Ithilien... The story Tolkien only hinted at. A lovingly canon-faithful gapfiller.
And so it was that Gwaihir saw them with his keen, far-seeing eyes, as down the wild wind he came, and daring the great peril of the skies he circled in the air: two small, dark figures, forlorn, hand in hand on a little hill, while the world shook under them, and gasped, and rivers of fire drew near. And even as he espied them and came swooping down, he saw them fall, worn out, or choked with fumes and heat, or stricken down by despair at last, hiding their eyes from death.
Side by side they lay; and down swept Gwaihir, and down came Landroval and Meneldor the swift; and in a dream, not knowing what fate had befallen them, the wanderers were lifted up and borne far away out of the darkness and fire.
The Return of the King, Book 6, Chapter 4, The Field of Cormallen
As they drew down into the chaos, Gandalf could at last see what the eagles had from far above. The small forms were difficult to discern from the rocks and tumult but now he could make out where they lay. Face down in the dust; both were covered with such ash and dirt that the wizard could not tell one from the other. Meneldor swooped down and clasped his talons around the midriff of the first. His strong wings beat the fouled air as he lifted again and pulled the tiny body up. The two hobbits, hands were clasped together still, and the other body was lifted with them for a moment though it dropped to the earth again as Meneldor gained height and sped to safety with his precious cargo. The second body landed on it's back and Gandalf could see that it was Frodo. Landroval came then and plucked the unconscious hobbit deftly from the ground. He surged up and away as a belch of stench and fume rolled over the place where the two had just fallen. Gandalf could not keep his eyes from the still form as it dangled lifeless from Landroval's grip. He followed it intently as the three eagles beat against the swirling, ash-laden winds to gain the clearer air far above. Did they yet live? Gandalf hardly dared to hope.
"Give him to me!" the wizard shouted as they crossed high above the plain. Gwaihir, steadied and slowed and cried out the request to his brother. Landroval wheeled back and, as nimbly as he had lifted him from the ground, dropped the pitiful form into Gandalf's outstretched arms.
So light. Frodo seemed to weigh nothing. Gandalf hugged his dear friend fiercely to his breast. Relief, sorrow, pride and love welled up in his heart. They had done it. He had not dared to hope they would and yet of all the creatures of Middle Earth, these hobbits alone stood any chance of it. He looked down at Frodo's pale, dirty face. But what price had they paid? Holding him, Gandalf could feel his life's spark fading even as they flew as swiftly as eagles could towards the sanctuary of Ithilien. The hobbit's aged worn features told of torments endured that were far beyond what he should have been able to bear, but the still visage seemed at peace, unaware and tranquil. What price indeed?
The eagles broke through the rending clouds into the high air above Durthang. It was clearing. The great shadow had departed and winds from the east were scattering its remains to the four corners of the earth. The sweet smell of Ithilien met them on that wind. Meneldor, carrying Sam, was far ahead; a speck in the distance as he raced to the camps of the Men of the West and healing for his charge. Gandalf shifted his grip and lifted Frodo's face to the clearing sky, hoping the clean air would drive the foul fumes of Mordor from his lungs. But Frodo had no strength left. His breath and body were failing, and the stench of the black land could not be driven from him. Despair gripped Gandalf's heart. It was within his power to save this friend, but not within his right. He was merely a guide, forbidden to directly alter the course of the lives of men and their kin. He could not deny them their fate, nor the gift of Iluvatar, but never in his long existence had he been more sorely tested to do so.
He cradled the small body in his arms and could feel, beneath the now prominent ribs the soft, slowing beat of Frodo's heart. He yet lived, and Gandalf knew from long experience that where hobbits were concerned, it was unwise to discount them even when all hope seemed lost. He had lost hope for Frodo once before. Yet even through the long days after the Ford of Bruinen, this small, innocent creature had endured and lived, defying the dark powers that tried to succumb him. He bowed his head over the hobbits dark curls. While life remained in this frail body, so must hope remain in Gandalf's heart.
The cry went up from the armies of the west. Victory was at hand and Aragorn at last sent his forces to crush the remains of any companies that still fought. By his side, Legolas, his arrows spent, cried out and pointed skywards.
"An eagle comes bearing a figure in its talons!" His gaze intensified on the rapidly approaching form. "Ai! It is one of the shire folk!" Aragorn drew a startled breath.
"They live? Oh, hope unlooked for, please say they live! Is there but one, and where is Gandalf?" The lone eagle soared above the Morannan and swooped down on the camps men had made at the edge of the field of battle. Aragorn, seeing the rout of the armies of Mordor at hand, and Prince Imrahil and the sons of Elrond making great slashes through the remaining troups, left to Legolas and Gimli the others who remained with them and the hill he had commanded. He spurred his horse down the slope to the cracked and bitter land below. He could not have dared to hope Frodo and Sam had lived. The sight of tiny mithril coat the Mouth of Sauron had produced struck a blow of anguish in his heart. But there had been only one set of clothes; Frodo's. Perhaps Sam, faithful humble Sam had completed the task after his master had fallen.
On he raced to where the eagle had landed. A group from the camp was rushing forward to the spot. He could see a small figure being lifted from the ground. His skills would be needed, as he had feared. In the encampment, there was a place the healers had set up to receive the wounded. It was crude, only wagons and blankets set upon the ground, but they were readying themselves for a great and terrible task. They laid Sam's body on one of these blankets and were removing his cloak when Aragorn arrived.
"Make way for the King!" A shout rang out from one of the healers, an old and grizzled soldier, scarred and lame from many battles. He led Aragorn to the place where they were tending the hobbit. It is Sam, Aragorn realized as he drew near but he could spare no more thought to the implications of this discovery. He knelt quickly by the small form and placed a hand on his forehead. Sam was pale, pale as death beneath the filth that covered him. His cracked lips were slack and only a faint breath issued from them. Aragorn sat hunched beside him and it seemed to those watching that he became a thing made from stone for even his breath seemed to have stilled. Long moments passed as the other healers watched in awed silence, not understanding what passed between the man and halfling. As he sat in a seeming trance, another great rush of wings was heard close at hand. Aragorn did not look up, but several of the other healers ran to greet the arriving eagle.
Aragorn realized he had come none too soon from the battle. Sam was sorely hurt, worn out and exhausted, but it was the reek of poisons that he could still smell on the hobbit's clothing that worried him the most. Hot gasses issued from the ground in Mordor, that he knew from his own experience, and these would choke the breath and sear the eyes if inhaled. When the ring went into the fire, the mountain had undoubtedly awoken and spewed forth such toxins into the surrounds. Sam could not have escaped them. Aragorn sought deep within the hobbit for a way to bring him back despite his hurts - it was hard, but he finally found the faint spark of the sturdy hobbit's heart and called to it.
Voices, calling. From some dim place outside them, Aragorn at last recognized the voice that called his own name. Gandalf was shouting for him from a rapidly closing distance. Aragorn blinked and looked up; coming back from the brink he had reached to retrieve Sam. It was Gandalf, and he was striding across the broken field. In his arms he carried another small form, it's dark head lolled back, it's arms limp and dangling, it's dirty bare feet hanging lax from his arms. Aragorn was bewildered, overjoyed and dismayed at once. Frodo was found! But if he were as badly off as Sam had been;! Though Aragorn had fought but little in the battle, the struggle to save Sam's life had drained him. Another such fight, if it were needed, would be exhausting.
The look on Gandalf's face was telling. Aragorn knew the wizard well, despite the change that had overcome him when his past life had been burned away, and knew his stern face's many moods. Gandalf was deeply concerned, almost to the point of despair, over the charge he held tenderly in his arms. Aragorn did not doubt the other hobbit's condition was at least as grave as Sam's had been, if not more so. Gandalf laid Frodo on the pallet beside Sam's and knelt at the dusky head.
"My friend, if ever you were needed by these fair folk, it is now." Gandalf spoke calmly, but with a heavy heart. "He is almost beyond reach. This task was more than he could bear." The grizzled healer was also at Frodo's side. He untied the rope belt and released the clasp from the elven cloak. The form beneath, clad in filthy leather orc stuff, was much changed since last Aragorn had seen it. He was pale as death and painfully thin and bruised, and there were old scratches covering what could be seen of his chest and arms. A foul discolored patch crept up the left side of his neck and down under the jerkin and smears of dried blood covered the back and palm of the right hand. The delicate hand itself was missing its third finger. Aragorn nearly wept at the pitiful sight but he had not a moment to loose. If Frodo still lived, he would fight for him.
He bent over the small face and, placing both his hands to the sides of Frodo's head, pressed his forehead against the hobbit's. Frodo's skin was cold, but not as cold as death would have made it, though Aragorn could discern no breath either fair or foul from him. Breath first, then to retrieve him from this precipice. He willed himself deep into the darkness that surrounded his small friend, searching desperately for any spark of his bright spirit. Deeper than he had imagined, the spark had fled. Aragorn realized that Frodo had never expected anything from this quest but death, and had long ago prepared himself for it. As he called out to him, Aragorn knew this would be a harder battle than he had ever fought before. Frodo was not looking to return, but was instead seeking in the other direction for his hard won peace. Aragorn strove deeper still. There! Frodo? He called with his mind. Come back, my friend. You are dearly held and would be sorely missed if you did not. The faint shadow of light that Aragorn could see hesitated. Sam is with me. His thought continued. Please come back to us,; to Sam. It would rend all our hearts to lose you now. You are more loved than you could ever imagine;
Those who watched in silence saw nothing to reveal the intense struggle that Aragorn was waging. He had, after a long time, stiffened and picked Frodo's head up from the pallet pressing the pale forehead fiercely against his own. A long, slow sigh escaped Frodo's lips, and then he drew a soft breath, weak but his own. Beside them, Gandalf could sense the reek of the air of Mordor as it was finally driven from Frodo's lungs. The wizard felt hope again quicken in him. Aragorn remained still for a long time, holding Frodo's face against his. At last he seemed to stir, and gently laid the hobbit back to the pallet. Frodo was still pale, and would have seemed close to death yet, if they had not seen the faint flush of blood beginning to touch his cheek. Aragorn sat back, completely spent and wearily bowed his head.
"I do not know if he will live," he sighed. "I have given him all the strength I could, but he is far gone. It may not yet be enough." He looked up at the small, dirty face. "It is up to him now." Aragorn looked to Sam, whose hurts were being tended by the old soldier turned healer. "Aethelas for them both; as much as you can spare; for the stink of the black land is also upon them. I will settle a sleep on Sam, for it would be too much for him if he were to wake now and see his master thus. The rest will do him good." He laid a trembling hand on Sam's forehead and closed his eyes for a moment. "They need long healing and comfort. See that they are kept at peace." The old soldier nodded and motioned to the other healers to bring what Aragorn had ordered.
Gandalf helped Aragorn to his feet and stood beside him. "The battle is won, but I would feel less for the victory if it cost us these two." Aragorn sighed. "And I am weary! I have never felt so weary!" He swayed a bit and Gandalf steadied him.
"Rest then, Aragorn. I will see to the hobbit's care. There will be much more work to do this day and you will need to be ready for it."
Wounded soldiers were beginning to come down from the battlefield. There were many, but the losses were far fewer than might have been. The men picked from the Tower Guard seemed most grievously injured, and there were many wounded who wore the tabard of Dol Amroth, though Gandalf was pleased to see few who were of the Dúnedain in the wounded. The wizard turned back to his charges. Among the rapidly filling field of hurt and dying men, they were almost lost. The old soldier was washing and binding Frodo's maimed hand but the other healers were being called away to tend the newly arrived injured. A steaming pot of water sat between the two small bodies and on it's surface floated the leaves of aethelas Aragorn had requested. The scent drifted over them all and filled the mind with calm and strength. Gandalf touched the shoulder of the soldier. "You have done well, but I will now tend these folk. Your skills are needed among your own people." He nodded and Gandalf knelt between the two hobbits. The healer backed away, awed that so great a personage as Mithrandir would personally tender these perian. The tale of this act and its implications would be quickly spread.
From his own water bottle, Gandalf gave each a spare drink. Neither was able to take more than a small sip, but it was enough to wet their lips and a bit more. He took a cloth and dipped it into the steaming water. This he used to bathe their faces. Sam had a terrible gash across his forehead that had bled into his eyes, but, cleaned, it looked as if it would heal. The warmth and scent of the aethelas water brought a bloom to his tanned cheek that heartened Gandalf. Sam, at least, would live. The wizard was certain his strong spirit would not fail him, but he wished he had more confidence for Frodo. As he cleaned Frodo's face, he noticed how sunken his cheeks were and there were lines of hardship that had not been written there when last he had seen his friend. Frodo looked older now, careworn. Little seemed to remain of the sweet gentlehobbit of the Shire. He had indeed become a vessel of pure light, though that light seemed faint and tired now. "You must choose for yourself, my friend," Gandalf whispered for Frodo's ears alone. "It is the gift your kind were given and it cannot be taken from you." He touched the pale brow and smoothed back the dirty hair. "But I would wish you would choose to live. Without you, this world will be a darker place, despite what you have done."
From the field above, a horse approached. Legolas, with Gimli riding behind, halted at the edge of the field. They dismounted and approached the place where Gandalf crouched. Seeing the prone hobbits, Gimli gave a cry and ran forward. "They are found!" He stopped when he saw their pallor and the look on Gandalf's face. "But less than whole, and in dire straights by the look of them." He bowed his head and Legolas, coming up behind his friend, also looked sadly on the two lying there.
"Has Peregrin been brought here?" the elf asked. "He was not with the remains of the Tower Guard. If he lives still, he would want to know the fate of his kin."
Gandalf shook his head. "He would have been brought to me if he were here. If he is not with the Tower Guard, then he must remain on the field of battle. I fear we may find the Shire has given much towards this victory." At that Gimli stiffened and stuck out his chin, his beard bristling.
"Then we will find him!" The dwarf's eyes glowed with defiant rage and sorrow. "For one so small might be lost amid that carnage. He was valiant, and should be honored. I will see it done." At that, he turned and began to march up the hill again, back towards the wreckage of the black gate. Legolas sighed.
"It is the darkest task of battle, and I have no love for it." His eyes followed his friend as he walked away. "But I too will search among the dead of men for Peregrin and keep hope that he still may yet live. As I keep hope for them all." He looked back at Frodo and Sam as they lay. "They are most valiant creatures." He mounted his horse and followed the way Gimli had taken.
Hours past and Aragorn, recovered, was again directing the armies. Many companies of Sauron's men had fought on though those outside the walls of Mordor were quickly finished. Aragorn made ready forces to descend into the black land to do battle with the keep of Barad-Dur where the last vestiges of Sauron's command lay. Though he directed the fighting, he could not keep his mind from worrying about Frodo. He felt as if he had somehow failed the hobbit in not being able to draw him back further from the brink of death. He had kept him from falling into that chasm, and that was a feat in itself, but he could not feel confident that what he had done would be enough to keep him alive. As soon as he was able, he returned to the field of the wounded to find Gandalf. The wizard sat, on a small stool with his pipe, between the hobbits and his eyes looked at visions far away. Frodo and Sam still lay as they had, but woolen blankets now covered each, and though Sam's color was better than it had been before, Frodo's small face still held a deathly pallor. Aragorn stood for a moment behind him in silence.
"He has not died," he said gently. "And that is a good sign." Gandalf stirred finally and gave him a smile.
"A good sign yes, but he is far from safe. I fear we are looking at a long healing for both of them, if indeed they ever can be healed. I have spent the time feeling their pathways and memories and it is amazing they survived. The strength of these creatures continues to astonish me. Both have endured much more than even I would have thought." The fondness and concern in the wizard's voice touched Aragorn. In all the long years he had known him, Aragorn had never seen Gandalf show the compassion he felt towards hobbits for any other peoples of Middle Earth. Now, at last, all would see his faith had been justified.
"We should take them back to Ithilien. Above the fields of Cormallen, at the edge of the forest we will camp and recover. There the finest healers of Gondor will tend them. Now that the shadow has departed and the stench of that foul land has left them, their remaining hurts could not be in better hands." Aragorn knelt beside Frodo's body and touched his cheek. It was warmer than before and the man took comfort from that small sign.
"Gimli and Legolas are in search of Peregrin." Gandalf said. "I did not see what fate befell him, but he was with the picked men of the Tower Guard. They suffered great losses when the trolls overran them."
Aragorn looked up towards the battlefield. "Then I will hope that luck was with him, as it was with all of us."
The leading hill that rose above the swampy morass before the Morannon was a scene of chaos and carnage. The hulking bodies of many hill trolls lay cooling in the afternoon sun and between them the bodies of men lay, many with their throats ripped open by knashing troll teeth. Beregond had been found, wounded but alive, and though Pippin was not with him, Gimli was not willing to give up hope until the light had faded completely.
Perhaps it was the slanting sunlight, or the fact that they had moved several of the bodies by then, but suddenly the dwarf noticed something he had not before. A small foot, not at all shaped like a troll's caught his eye. It was black in color, which was why Gimli had first thought it part of the troll, but as he rushed forward, he saw that it was merely covered with black, dried blood. From the hair atop the arch, Gimli knew that this must be the foot of Peregrin and he gave a great shout of excitement before plunging into the pile of dead. He braced himself against the troll's stiffening body and, incredibly, it moved. Gimli worked himself further underneath to gain a better foothold. It is no vain boast dwarves make of their own strength, and while the troll was many times Gimli's bulk, the dwarf moved him with a will borne of desperation.
It was Pippin's foot. The rest of his body had been pinned him beneath the troll. He was covered from head to toe with black blood, almost as if he had bathed in it, but he did not move and his small rosebud mouth was open and slack. Gimli wept at the sight and knelt at his side. The dear hobbits had indeed paid a heavy price that day. The dwarf tenderly lifted the limp body and cradled it in his arms.
"You have found him." Legolas's sad voice behind him was an odd comfort to Gimli.
"Yes; Though too late, I fear." Gimli struggled up with his burden and began picking his way over the rough terrain of the dead to bring him forth. A slip, and a jarring stumble made him almost drop the body, but it elicited something Gimli had never expected to hear; a weak, pitiful cry of pain from Pippin. The dwarf cried out in shock and looked closely at the hobbit's face. "He's alive!" Gimli shouted and Legolas rushed to look as well.
"These folk are made of stern stuff I know, though I would never have expected this!" the elf cried. "Quickly, to my horse, we will speed him to the healers' field." And the two friends with infinite care and as much haste as they could muster, carried the wounded hobbit from the battlefield.
Aragorn heard the sound of the horse approaching. Legolas strode beside leading the animal while Gimli rode with a small, dark body in his arms. Pippin! Aragorn ran to them and was overjoyed to see the hobbit's hands moving feebly and to hear the little murmurs of protest he was making. The luck of the day was not yet ended! He offered to take the hobbit, but Gimli would not have it. He dismounted and carried Pippin himself to the spot where Frodo and Sam were being tended.
"Here, master wizard, is a valiant warrior in need of healing. He has single handedly killed a troll many times his size and paid a heavy price in the taking. We found him buried beneath the brute, covered in its blood, his sword still clenched in his hand! A warrior indeed! I would count myself lucky to stand beside Peregrin Took in any battle." Gimli beamed as he spoke and tears of affection grew in his eyes.
Gandalf also looked relieved and gazed at the young hobbit with fondness and pride. "You would be lucky, friend, to fight beside him, though I hope the days of battles are nearly at an end. Please lay him beside his kin and the king will tend him. He has earned the accolades you give, but it seems he will need some rest before he is ready to fight again."
Pippin cried out weakly as he was laid down and Aragorn laid a hand on his blood clotted brow. "Easy, Pippin;" he murmured and began removing the hauberk and mail. The chest plate was crushed and he could see where folds of the metal had been driven into Pippin's sides. The helm was gone, and there was a gash along his forehead where his coif did not protect him. Aragorn himself gently removed the headpiece and began feeling along the hobbit's neck and limbs to see what injuries he had received. "There are some ribs broken here," he said at length, pulling the blood soaked shirt away from the hobbit's skin. "And he has a great lump on his skull. There is also a swelling at his side as if something within his body were bleeding." Pippin had not opened his eyes but grimaced in pain when Aragorn touched his abdomen. "There are few who are skilled in this kind of wound - I will tend to it myself."
He took a cloth dipped in the aethelas water and laid it along the hobbit's bare side. He whispered a tune in an ancient tongue and Pippin settled and calmed as if the words and melody soothed his pain. Aragorn kept up his low song as he dipped the cloth repeatedly into the warm water and moved it over the hobbit's many hurts. Where the water softened the dried blood, it wiped off easily and the onlookers could see the dark bruises that had formed fade and become yellow from the healing effect of the aethelas water. The grimace on Pippin's face began to ease as its essence spread through his battered body. As Aragorn finished, the young hobbit's eyes fluttered and he stirred as if waking. The king smiled down at him, joyously.
"You must rest now, Pippin. We very nearly lost you, but all is well now. Sleep, and let your heart be easy. We have won the day, and you have fought most bravely." He placed a hand over Pippin's brow and willed him into a gentle sleep. Pippin's eyes gave up their struggle to focus and he sighed drowsily as he drifted off.
This fic is continued in the next part "The Gift of Iluvatar" - Part 2