The Gift of Iluvatar - Part 2 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.
(To read part 1 - Please click The Gift of Iluvatar - Pt 1
With the morning light, camp was broken and the company set forth to make a more permanent encampment in the fair lands of Ithilien near the banks of the Anduin. Messengers were sent forth to return to Gondor, herald the victory and retrieve the provisions and personnel who would be needed to support them. They had few wagons, but supplies were gathered together so that as many as possible could be used to ferry the wounded. Pippin and Sam were laid gently into the back of one and Frodo was placed in another that Gandalf and Aragorn themselves would accompany. Through the night, there had been little change in their condition, but the king could feel the strength returning to both of the younger hobbits, and the longer Frodo held on, the more confident he felt about the elder as well. They traveled slowly so as not to jar their charges but the entire company, except those who still remained to serve the troops who continued to fight inside Mordor, were eager to leave the raved lands of shadow behind.
They traveled the better part of a day, and then another before reaching the region above the field of Cormallen. The healers had set up tents and structures at the edge of the forest where shelter from the winds and the shade of the trees could keep their charges comfortable. The hobbits were placed a bit apart, in a glade crowned by newly green trees where there was water for them in the form of a happily bubbling stream. Aragorn himself saw to their placement. He asked the old healer to recommend his most skilled staff to help care for them, for the king made it plain he would be attending the hobbits personally.
"I have one whose name is Indil. She is most skilled and patient. She will serve you well."
"Then send her to me and I will instruct her," Aragorn said to him and the old healer brought her forth.
"These little folk are most dear to me, lady," Aragorn began kindly as he greeted the woman. "And I wish for nothing more than to see them hale and hearty again."
Indil was young by measure of the Númenorean blood, but she had lived long as her own people reckoned it. She had born two sons and raised them to manhood, though they had both died in the service of Gondor. She had seen much death and suffering, but her heart had never hardened to it and her dedication and skill in healing had earned her great respect. She bowed, in awe of Aragorn, the Elfstone, and nodded meekly. "I will do as you bid, my king, to the best of my skill and ability. I am yours to command." She looked up at Aragorn. He was gazing at the hobbits with a fierce tenderness in his eye. Indil was intrigued but remained silent. She had lived her whole life under a Steward and not a king, but she knew her place. She would show respect for her monarch; though the compassion he displayed for these small beings would have garnered it even were he not Elendil's heir.
"This one was injured in battle." Aragorn said, laying a hand on Pippin's light curls. "He fell slaying a troll and the creature crushed him beneath it. I have healed much of his hurt, but he will need a long rest and tender care." Aragorn tussled the hobbit's hair affectionately. "His name is Peregrin and he is a bit of an imp. You will need to watch him carefully so that he does not leave his bed before he is able." Then the king moved to the next bed, to where Sam lay. He placed a hand on this hobbit's forehead and closed his eyes as if reading something through his fingertips. "And this is Samwise." Aragorn said with a gentle smile. "He was one of the two who went into Mordor alone to defeat the shadow. He has endured much depravation and hardship. His body is worn out and starved. You will need to ensure he and this next one get as much food and water into them as you can manage."
"We will do our best, my lord, to get their strength back." Indil assured them. Aragorn nodded in satisfaction and turned his attention to the last bed upon which they had placed Frodo. He looks most tenderly upon this one, Indil thought, and she examined the hobbit with interest.
The little creature was deathly pale. Indil could see he was naturally fair, but his malady lay heavy upon him. Dark shadows lay under his eyes and she would have thought him dead already if it weren't for the slight flush of pink that could be seen on his lips. Aragorn stroked the ashen cheek a laid his palm over the forehead as he had done with Samwise. Unlike his companion, this little one's features did not respond even in the slightest to the caress and, that observation unexpectedly smote Indil's heart. Aragorn was silent and still for a long moment as if what he learned from his touch was exactly what he had feared. "He remains with us..." The king sighed at long last. "But he is so weak. It was far too terrible a burden for anyone to bear." He looked directly at Indil, deeply into her eyes as if compelling her to do his bidding with his will alone. "This one is Frodo. He was the one who defeated the dark lord, though it cost him much. I have sustained his spirit and healed much of his hurt, but his body, too, is worn past exhaustion. He especially will need constant attention, and though I will tend these folk myself, I need to entrust their care to you when I cannot be here." Then he paused and the look of fierce compassion on his face almost took Indil's breath. "These folk are more dear to me than my own life. If ever your heart was moved by love, let you remember it now, and may the memory of that love color your treatment of these good people."
Indil curtsied low before her king and bowed her head. "I will remember, my lord. I will treat them as if they were my own blood."
Aragorn nodded, satisfied, and bid Indil to gather what she needed for the hobbits' care from his own supplies. She was also to stay with them in this shady glade to be ever at the ready to serve them. When she was dismissed, the woman began to order together what she would need. She had a small host of assistants who she instructed to begin a fire, heat a large kettle of water and begin making a special broth of her own invention. She also asked for warm, clean garments and woolen blankets from the King's supply. The clothes would not fit the periannath, but what now clad them would need to be cleaned and mended.
When the water was heated, Indil and two of her attendants brought some of it along with soft cloths, a pale woolen robe and some sweetly scented soaps to the place where Pippin lay. He stirred, and when Indil began to remove his black and blood stiffened shirt, he woke.
"See here!" He protested with feeble indignation. He was weak as a kitten and Indil was easily able to deflect his attempts to remove her hands. She smiled warmly at his discomfiture.
"Well, master perian! It is good to see you are feeling up to a new fight, but you need not worry. I will not harm you, I merely wish to clean the wounds you have so bravely got and help you to make yourself presentable." Pippin's eyes grew very wide as he looked upon the woman and her attendants behind her. He tried to sit up but could not even manage to raise his head above the pillow. Indil shushed him comfortingly. "Rest easy, little master, we will not harm you!"
Pippin would have rather faced battle again than these human women, with their amused grins and alarming intent but he knew he was in no condition to resist them. "You folk may look upon us as children," he gasped weakly. "But I assure you, I am nearly a hobbit full grown! I can care for myself!"
Indil's warm smile remained but she paused and bowed to her charge respectfully. "It is true, master perian, that our folk might look upon you as children, but from the account of the king, I know you have proven yourself worthy in battle and are no child. Your people have earned great respect and the gratitude of Gondor, would you not want us to care for you as well as we are able? Rest assured that I will tender you with no less respect than I would give the bravest warrior of my own people. Now," her voice, while gentle, was firm. She would not be denied. "By your leave, I will tend you." Pippin sputtered a bit, and looked quite frantic as the ladies positioned themselves around his bed, but when they left the woolen blanket on him and worked beneath it with a most professional detachment to remove his blood stained clothes, he did not find it hard to maintain his dignity. Indeed, he realized full well that in his present weakened condition, he could not have done for himself anyway. Indil slipped her arms under his shoulders and pulled so that his head came to the edge of the bed. She then slipped a thick leather apron under him that draped over the edge of the mattress and poured a pitcher of heated water slowly over his curls. Despite himself, Pippin found himself calming as the women washed his body and the healer's gentle fingers worked soap and water into all the places the dried blood had settled through his hair. Pippin had not realized how itchy those patches had become and Indil's attentions felt as satisfying as a mug of ale on a parched throat after a long day's work. Despite his discomfiture, Pippin sighed and Indil laughed outright. "So I see our ministrations are not entirely unwelcome! You should learn to take pleasure where ever you can find it, master perian."
Pippin smiled dreamily. "Oh, that has never been a failing of mine," he sighed, and then, as if remembering to whom he was speaking, he blushed bright red again. Indil chuckled at his admission, but respectfully did not dwell on it. She was beginning to understand a bit of the Elfstone's fondness for these creatures. For a people out of legend and children's tales, the periannath were unexpectedly earthy. Though initially she had had to remind herself that they were not children, the feel of Peregrin's uneasy tenseness, the way he had relaxed in her hands and the way he had sighed with pleasure made Indil realize quite clearly, that these little ones were definitely not innocents. It was a realization that merely added to their charm. She poured a cleansing rinse of the warm water over his scalp until it ran clear and handed the empty pitcher to an assistant.
"Now, master perian, I will leave you in these kind ladies' hands. Do as they bid and you will be comfortably clean and dressed before you are aware of it. Resist..." She tried to look stern, "and it will not go well for you. We may be women, but we are strong, and with this many, we would be the match of even a great warrior of our own people, so take heed of that!" Pippin still looked a bit uncomfortable, but her gentle kindness had put him at ease and he faced the human women who remained to work on him with a determined face. Indil could not help smiling upon him.
She took three of her assistants and moved on to the table where Samwise lay. He had not stirred since Aragorn's gentle touch and even that had been no more than a twitch of his brow. He had made no other movement since Indil had come to this glade, and though the king had said his strength was returning, Indil was terribly concerned. It had been her experience that those who were too weak to even stir in sleep were the ones in most desperate condition. She took his small hand in hers and lifted his arm to see if he had any control of his muscles. The arm dropped instantly, limp as a doll's. It was not a good sign. Indil ordered one of her ladies to bring a bowl of the special broth as soon as it was ready, and then began to carefully remove the hobbit's clothing. He wore little, a simple coat and plain shirt, suspenders and breeches, though these seemed to have been made for a heftier individual than he was. They removed the clothes and set aside the items they contained so that the garments could be washed and mended. A small crystal phial, delicate and fine and an elegant box with intricate designs carved into its surface were tucked into the coat's pockets but little else. She placed these in the worn backpack that had been laid at the foot of his bed beside an empty water flask, a filthy black cloak and a length of soft grey rope.
As they had done with Pippin, the ladies carefully washed Samwise's body, and though he did not wake, Indil did note some response from him. A soft sigh as Indil poured water over his hair to wash it, a twitch as they rubbed him dry, a weak but definite swallow as they ladled broth into his mouth. Indil was heartened but she knew he was still a hair's breath from death. She had to see that he had food and water in him as often as he would take it in order to give him back his strength.
Leaving her attendants to finish with Samwise, Indil approached the last bed. This was the one the king had named Frodo, and the one for whom he had seemed to show the most concern. She had saved him for last in order to ensure that the sun was high in the sky before she began to bathe him. It was not quite April, and even in these southern climes, the mornings could be chill. Indil wanted to insure that the day was full and warm before she stressed his weakened body with water. His dark, dirty hair hung in loose rings framed around his small face. Indil idly brushed them back and thought to herself how beautiful he would be clean, awake and smiling. It puzzled her that she would think such a thing about one not even of her own race, but she supposed it was because he was truly fair to look upon. She took his hand to test his muscle tone, but she did not let it go. She knew from just this touch, that he would not flinch if she let it fall. The hand was soft and delicate. The long fingers made an elegant, aristocratic counterpart draped over her roughened palm. It suddenly struck her what a staggering thing this small hand had done. To think that it had accomplished what legions of Gondor's finest warriors had not been able to! She gazed into his face in wonder. He did look different from his companions. He was finer somehow, more ethereal. Indil had seen but one of the elvish race in her life, the fair one who fought by the Elfstone's side. The dark haired hobbit's features almost looked elvish, but there was something even more compelling about him. Indil found herself absently stroking his hand as she had used to those of her sleeping sons. She smiled sadly at the memory. Her sons were long dead. They had died far from home or healers. She had never even had the chance to fight for their lives... but... she did have a chance with this little one. Her resolve stiffened. She would NOT let death take this brave, precious one - not while she had the strength to do something to prevent it.
Indil pulled the blanket back and with utmost care, pulled the filthy leather tunic over Frodo's head. He was limp as a rag, which made the endeavor difficult, but Indil managed it without calling for assistance. Then she removed the leather breeches and tucked the woolen blanket tightly around his pale body. The clothes were foul things, smelly and ill fitting and Indil was temped to throw them away, but something stopped her. These are what he wore to defeat the dark lord. As noisome as they seemed it felt like sacrilege to dispose of anything associated with an act so great. She carefully folded the things and placed them with the others that were to be cleaned and mended. She then took another blanket from the table where her requisition had been delivered and laid it gently over Frodo. Even with the lambskin covered bed and one thick woolen blanket he had seemed cold to her touch. She knew in his condition, a chill would kill him and she wished to take no chances. She let him warm for several minutes under the layers before continuing with her examination.
The right hand had been bandaged the day before and she removed the wrapping to see its condition for herself. Something had removed his third finger as neatly as if it had been cut, but the tissues did seem to be knitting together over the small stub of bone that remained. She left it unbandaged to let the air dry the tissues and preceded up the slender arm. Scratches, recently scabbed, met her questing fingers and when she reached his neck, she found a hard swelling just to the left of the base of his neck. The tissue surrounding it was discolored, she could tell that even through the grime, but she had no idea what could have caused the wound. His head seemed whole, unlike his companion Samwise, whose wound was currently been dressed on the next table, but the rest of his body seemed covered with older injuries. The left shoulder still sported a small white scar that did not look long healed. Along the ribs was scored a great gash as if a sword or lash and struck him and beneath this was the old yellow and green of a terrible bruise that was slowly healing. Over all he had the gaunt look of someone who had gone for too long with too little. His ribs were easily counted and the point of his hip stuck out from the lean body - it was the same look his companion had, only on this fair, delicate form, it looked more tragic.
By the time new water was heated, those attending Pippin had finished. One remained to feed him broth and bread and the others came to help Indil bathe Frodo. She felt strangely unwilling to accept their help, almost jealous of the attention they would give him, but she knew such feeling was folly. If she were to save him, she would need their assistance. As the women gently washed the layers of grime from his body, Indil poured warmed water over Frodo's curls. She worked the soap through his dark hair and though she watched for any signs of stirring, she noted none. Not a hitch of breath or flutter of eyelid disturbed his deathly sleep. He was indeed far gone. When they had dried him and dressed him in a soft white robe, she laid him against her side to try to coax a drop of broth between his lips. But even its enticing flavor could not get him to readily swallow. Indil had to gently stroke the pale neck in order to persuade his muscles to accept it. As the sun rose past noon and beyond, Indil stayed with her small charge, and one spoonful at a time, working each one down the slack throat, she managed to get a bowlful of broth into Frodo. When she finally laid him back onto the bed, she put an ear to his belly and was rewarded to hear the sounds that indicated his body had not shut down, and that indeed the broth might give him strength. It gave her hope. Holding his limp body against hers had been a trial on her heart... He was the same size and heft of a child and it pained her to feel him against her knowing how close he was to death. She knew better than to allow herself to feel this way, especially with such an grim patient, but she could not help it.
After checking on the other hobbits and assuring herself that they were all right, Indil found herself drawn back to Frodo. What was it about this small creature that compelled her? He was sad and beautiful, like a stricken dove, and that alone would garner Indil's pity, but not these feelings of compassion and fascination. It must have been the realization of what he had done that intrigued her so. This perian out of legend, alone but for his companion had saved all her people. It would seem an astonishing feat for anyone, and for one so small to do it... The fact that he had nearly given his life to accomplish it only made her admiration, as well as her determination that he would not perish, greater. She stroked his cheek gently. `This was madness', she thought. Indil had been a healer most her life and knew the folly of caring too deeply for those she tended, but with these,... this one especially, she realized, her heart would not be denied. She could not see these little ones die.
She would need to make a feeding tube scaled to the right size. Of leather and boiled for stiffness it would serve well. Otherwise neither of the two emaciated ones would ever get enough sustenance to recover. She knew where to find a large piece of good leather and the saddle maker would have the necessary tools. Putting the device together would also keep her from dwelling on her folly. She had gathered what she needed and was settling down by the fire to begin working when the king returned, walking wearily up the path alone and unheralded. Indil was startled but quickly assembled her attendants and had them stand ready at attention to do whatever he bid. Aragorn smiled despite the weariness and nodded to her, but walked directly to the beds and examined each patient briefly.
"They look much better for your tender care, lady." He said graciously. "How did you find them? "
Indil curtsied and bowed her head as she addressed her liege. "The larger one, Pippin, woke earlier," She reported. "And took some food, but he sleeps again, as you see. He was most indignant about being waited upon." She glanced up and noted the brief amused glint in the Elfstone's eye. "The other two were tended, and fed though, they show no sign of waking. The one called Samwise seemed more responsive, but both these two are still very grave."
Aragorn had moved to Sam's bed, and then to Frodo's touching each newly clean head in turn. "They look better, at least." His tone sounded sad to Indil's ear, but she did not know the king well enough to judge his moods.
"I think they are better, at least a little." She suggested, hoping she was not being too presumptuous. "The food and water was not rejected and that is a very good sign. I begin to have hope, my lord." Her voice dropped a bit as if she were afraid to admit what she was about to say. "They are a most remarkable race. I begin to understand what you have seen in these people."
Aragorn leaned heavily on Sam's bed. His stare wandered over Frodo's still pale form and it looked as if he were searching for his words.
"They are dear to me," He sighed, almost too softly for Indil to hear. "But I wonder if perhaps my heart may have acted before my head. I strove to save them but now wonder if indeed I should have." It seemed his heart was deeply troubled and Indil found herself wishing she could give him comfort. He glanced up as if remembering she was there and then nodded towards the hobbits. "These two especially have endured much that I can never heal or reward them for, and the burden this one bore," He looked sadly at Frodo, "Made scars that will never heal." Again his voice dropped and Indil could barely hear him say. "Do I wish to save him because I love him, or because it is what is best for him?"
Indil found her throat tightening. She did not know if she was supposed to hear these musings for indeed it sounded as if he was speaking more to himself than to her, but his words frightened her. She also did not know of the hurts he spoke of, but she understood his meaning. There are times when a healer knows it was kindest to let the dying spirit go, but in her heart, Indil knew this was not the case with these perian. She had nothing to go on but her feeling, but that feeling was very strong. If she gave them the chance, the little ones would recover. "My lord?" She began timidly with her eyes downcast. "I have not the gifts in healing you have, I cannot see into their hearts, but I have felt in them a strong love of life." She blushed under Aragorn's stern, appraising stare. "You asked me to look into my heart, my lord, and to tender them as if they were my own." She smiled softly looking down at the sleeping hobbits. "You needn't have asked, for they are easy to grow fond of and have already won my heart on their own."
A gradual softening came into Aragorn's eyes and, slowly, a compassionate smile warmed his face. "I see why you were recommended to me." He said softly. Indil looked up at him and the tenderness she saw in his face took her breath again. Here was a true leader of men. One who could inspire his people from love, not fear. Here was a king,...her king, she realized, and suddenly Indil knew the future of the race of men was bright, brighter than it had ever been in her lifetime. Here indeed was an heir of the blood of Númenor and it made her heart glad that she had lived to see him return. "What you say is true." He continued. "These folk have a spirit that is remarkable. Difficult to see at times, for they are a common folk and aren't often challenged in their peaceful land, but when called upon, they have done extraordinary feats of courage. They are easy to love if one sees them with true eyes." Indil blushed at his compliment. He stood and nodded towards the pavilions that had been set up on the edge of the glade. "And let us hope your heart and their spirits will be enough to bring them all back to us. Come, the tents are assembled now. Let us move them inside before the evening comes."
Indil nodded, still warmed by his praise. She and her assistants helped the king as he personally carried the hobbits to one of the pavilions. The ladies lit a fire in the raised hearth in its very center and the little tent became comfortably cozy despite the opening in the roof that let the smoke escape. Indil placed her chair by this fire and continued to work on the piece of thick leather she had obtained. Aragorn sat by each of the hobbits' sides in turn, murmuring soft words and phrases. When Indil had completed her task, the king aided her as she carefully slipped the narrow tube of leather into Sam's mouth. The upper end of the tube had been left wide, and served as a funnel into which rich broth could be ladled. Sam slept on but his reflexes obediently swallowed the liquid as it came into his mouth. When he had had a bowlful, and a drink of water by the same method, she turned to Frodo. He would still not swallow readily, and Indil could see the fear and despair in the king's eyes when he saw the hobbit's lack of response, but it was for this one she had made the device. Boiled, the leather was stiff enough, and coated with a bit of fat, Indil was able to guide the tube deep into his throat. His body tensed as she forced the tube down, and that was heartening to Indil. She doubted he could have had that much of a response before that morning. She massaged his throat an eased the tube till it was deep enough for the broth to stay down. Then she asked the king to raise him up and together they fed him a bowlful and a drink as they had Sam. Pippin, stirring finally, but still too weakened to sit up, received his supper in a more traditional manner from the patient hands of the king himself.
"You will be whole in not time, my friend!" Aragorn said wiping a bit of broth from the hobbit's chin. "The healers of Gondor are renowned and you have their finest to tend you." Pippin smiled wanly, but it did not ease the fear that creased his brow.
"And that is something I had not expected from that battle." Pippin replied. "But what of Frodo, what of Sam?!" He strained to look at them but it was clear he was sore from his injuries and the effort was difficult. "I see they lie with me in this healer's tent, but they seem far worse off than I! What has happened to them? Did they succeed? And what of the Dark Lord? Did we win?" His speech was hoarse and cracked a bit from agitation, but Aragorn laughed aloud, delighted to hear the hobbit's sweet voice.
"I will tell you what you need to know to ease your heart, but you must rest! You all are in the best hands you could be, but if you do not take your ease, you will put yourself in jeopardy again! You were far more grievously injured than you realize." Aragorn then told Pippin of all that had happened, and all that he had learned of Frodo and Sam's journey from Gandalf. The young hobbit listened with rapt attention for as long as he could, but in the drowsy heat of the fire, the carefully calm voice of the king lulled him, despite his fascination with the tale. He was nearly asleep by the time Aragorn finished and the king touched the hobbit's brow to guide him the rest of the way.
To be concluded in part 3