The Gift of Iluvatar - Part 3 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.
In the deep dark of the healer's tent during that first night in Ithilien, Frodo began once again to sense the world around him. He did not wake but it was as if the gentle ministrations of those who cared for him made him aware that all was not lost. He heard soft singing and smelled a sweet scent in the air, and then there was wood smoke, and warmth and softness all about him. The tortured winds that had first seemed to drive him into darkness calmed. He faced them and realized they no longer tore at his weary spirit. Sweet singing and words from without beckoned him. He could understand their meaning though they were in no language he knew. They told him he was needed and that he had tarried far too long here in this void. This darkness was the place he had expected to go, but the gentle words and love rumored in them made him realize that he did not need to. Not just yet, at least. He felt a great warmth begin to envelop him and some of his weariness fell away. The feeling buoyed him and compelled him. He was needed back and so tenderly and lovingly called that, without questioning, he came. The return journey would be long, but not hard, indeed, by comparison nothing seemed hard anymore.
In the early morning a few days after the hobbits had been placed in her care, Indil rose and entered the tent to check on her charges. Pippin was sleeping peacefully and didn't even stir when she laid new wood on the fire. She noted with satisfaction how much healthier he looked than just the morning before. It would not be many more days before he was fit to rise, though probably longer before he could do more than a brief aided hobble. Samwise too, had improved greatly in color though he was still very weak. She touched his brow and opened one eye, but he drowsed on. The king kept him sleeping by some craft since Samwise was not yet recovered enough to leave his bed. Although at the rate he was improving, Indil thought it would not be very long before he was. Last she turned her attention to Frodo. Of the three of them, he was the only one to show little improvement and it tore at her heart. He was the only one Aragorn had not needed to keep asleep as he was still pale and showed no signs of waking on his own. The day before, Meriadoc, the other halfling, had come from Gondor with the first supplies and he had been rushed straight away to visit his convalescent kin. He greeted Pippin joyously and talked long with him, and then he stood by the other beds speaking briefly to Sam and Frodo as they slept. Indil could see the worry in his face when he looked at Frodo, still the sickest of them, and it wasn't long before Merry had bright tears glistening in his eyes. He had not meant for Indil to see them and had turned away when he noticed her glance. He had apologized saying that he knew they were doing all they could for Frodo, but the sight of that brave little perian crying over his fallen kin had still pained Indil. She wished she could have had more than just hope to give him.
The newly awoken fire's light mingled with the first glow of morning and both lit Frodo's still features with a warm, golden radiance. He breathed easily, deep in sleep. Indil touched his face and to her surprise, his lips parted and he sighed softly as he dreamt. Instantly she leaned close to look at him, hardly daring to hope. Yes! There was a real blush there that was more than a mere reflection of the fire. She stroked his cheek. An almost imperceptible quiver stirred his muscles and Indil was sure she saw his brow crease just a bit in reaction. She gasped and barely managed to hold back her ecstatic cry. Adversity had always plagued her life, and since she had grown so fond of this perian she was more than half afraid that one morning when she entered the tent, he would be gone. To see him finally starting to come back to them was all she could have desired. She knew her heart had been too bold in tendering its affections; for this one at least she should have had no expectations - but reason, it seemed, had had nothing to do with it. This fair, brave little creature had enchanted her without breathing a word. She took his hand in hers and held it, as happy as if he had sat up and smiled at her.
He was being moved. Frodo could tell from the gentle sway of his feet, that he was being carried and was then laid on a soft surface. A moist breeze touched his face along with the sweetly scented caress of a fall of long hair. Someone leaned over him and he sighed, struggling to waken. His mind was full of fog and it was difficult but he reached up to push the hair aside. A gasp, and he heard the sound of a soft voice speaking though he could not make out the words. Then the voice was gone and he thought he heard the sound of running feet. He touched his face and felt his own fingertips, but there was something odd about the feeling. His eyes strove to open and he had to blink several times before he could focus on his own hand. Yes, now he realized why the feeling had been so strange. While the hand had felt completely normal, when he touched his own face, he realized it was missing its third finger. Memory came hesitantly back to him.
He looked up past his hand to the dawn tinted sky that peeked from behind a roof of dark green leaves. He did not know by what miracle he had survived the chaos of Mount Doom, but this place reminded him of Ithilien. The sweet scent and cool air, the soothing music of a little stream and the early morning twitter of birds were stark contrast to the last waking memory he had had. He wondered if indeed he had died, which was what he had expected, but he didn't feel dead. He felt definitely alive, and for the first time in a very long while, a bit hopeful, though even as he his thought turned towards the future, he knew a darkness remained in his heart. It seemed to him as if his life was a march words on a crisp sheet of parchment; black lines on bright paper, though some of those marks had been written by darkness and could never be unmade. He examined his hand again. The skin had healed over the wound, though the scar was still bright pink and he wondered how long it had been since he had got that wound in Sammath Naur. The scratches along his arms, from the fall into the briars outside of Cirith Ungol were nearly gone and he no longer felt the pinching hunger and thirst that had been his constant companions in the black land, though, now that he thought of it, he did feel up to a breakfast.
Experimentally, Frodo tried to sit up. His head spun. He had lain far too long but he found that, while stiff and a bit weak, he was feeling quite nearly himself again. He was lying on a man sized cot laid into a small opening at the edge of a deeper wood. Another cot, empty, was set up beside him. A little brook tumbled over the rocks and roots alongside the forest opening to meander out into a wide meadow below. Far in the distance, beyond the lines of many tents and banners assembled in that meadow was the dark line of the river Anduin, its waters not yet touched by the rising sun.
"I did not give up hope for you this time, Frodo," spoke a voice behind him. It was, quite truly the last voice Frodo had ever expected to hear. He looked, astonished, in the direction from which it had come and there, walking up the path, his robes gleaming white in the early morning dim, was Gandalf. A change had come over the wizard and he shone with a light that rivaled the dawn. Frodo could do nothing but stare, dumbfounded. Then he heard his name joyously shouted from beyond the clearing. Aragorn was quickly striding down the narrow path. Behind him, a woman with her cream color shift lifted past her knees, was struggling to match the king's eager pace. Frodo, still shocked speechless by the sight of Gandalf, could no longer support himself on his arms and slumped down on the bed again.
"Gandalf?!?!" His voice sounded cracked, hoarse and unused even to his own ears, which, he supposed, it was. He stared wide-eyed, unable to say anything as he lay gaping on the cot. "I saw you fall!" he continued stupidly, his eyes never leaving the wizard. Gandalf looked down at Frodo with a fierce tenderness and pride that almost embarrassed him.
"As I saw you fall." Gandalf's voice was as fair and joyous a thing as Frodo had ever heard. "Never be too hasty when assuming the fate of wizard or hobbit, as I have learned." He laid a hand on Frodo's shoulder and smiled dazzlingly. "I am glad you finally decided to return to us." The hobbit wondered if it was it a trick of the light, or did Gandalf glimmer with hidden brilliance, like the star glass or moonlight through trees? He seemed at once more terrible and more radiant.
Aragorn rushed towards them with a smile of such joy that Frodo could not help smiling back. He was dressed in a rich tunic of fine velvet with the emblem of a white tree encircled by stars emblazoned across its front. "At last, you wake!" he cried and he took up Frodo's hand and in his. "I have waited a long time to thank you, my friend. You made me fear I would never have the chance."
"But what of Sam?" Frodo gasped, starting to sit up again. "Is he...?"
"Alive and well, Frodo," said Aragorn, smiling brightly upon him. "He has yet to wake, but will soon, I judge."
"The king has tended you since you were brought from the mountain," Gandalf explained. "You were very close to death when we retrieved you, but he was able to bring you back, and Sam as well."
Frodo was full of questions but first he begged to see Sam. Aragorn obliged and returned from the tent with Sam's sleeping form in his arms. They laid the hobbit gently on the other bed and assured Frodo that he was indeed all right and would probably wake very soon. Frodo finally calmed and with an extra pillow at his head, asked his questions and listened to the answers.
Indil had stopped a little ways behind them and waited, listening and watching. His eyes are so blue..., she thought, as the hobbit listened in amazement to the tale unfolding before him. She wondered that she had never before noted how dazzling they were. For as long as she had tended him, limp and unresponsive, seeing him awake and alive filled her heart to bursting and beyond. She drank in the sight. It should have seemed odd to her; this was not even a man, and he was the size of a child, and yet she knew what she was feeling. She had known love before, and though its sweetness had not flavored her life for many years, she could not deny it. There could be no answering this love, but that did not matter. This feeling was deep, fulfilling, and sustained rather than drained her. She knew she would carry it for the rest of her days regardless of where Frodo went or whatever eventually became of him. His bright face, finally showing pink with health and excitement, looked up at the king and Indil delighted in the sight. It was this vision that she had longed to see since she had first laid eyes upon him. Tears of utter joy threatened to flow from her eyes. She did love him, wholly and completely, and because she did, she knew, she could never breathe a word of it to him. Whatever could she say? It would only serve to make him uncomfortable and she wanted him to be happy, healed, and to never trouble his fair head over her foolish heart. It would remain a secret, her treasured memory, as long as she lived.
At a break in the conversation, Indil cleared her throat and asked politely if Frodo was feeling hungry. Her throat was tight as she spoke, but she fancied she had hidden her feelings sufficiently. She hoped the wizard and her king would not notice the strain in it. Frodo nodded with a smile and Indil had to turn quickly away for now her tears did start to flow. Back in the now empty tent, she prepared a tray of honey and bread, sweet cream and spring fruit, and tried not to think that this would be the last time she would tend him. When she returned, Frodo was sitting at the small table that was beside the beds with Gandalf and Aragorn conscientiously by his side. He ate, but only a little, as his stomach was not yet accustomed to solid foods and when he had finished, Aragorn took his leave. Gandalf settled by the small fire and drew out his pipe.
Indil lingered, not wishing to leave, but she realized that she was essentially dismissed. Her task was over and it felt like her heart was breaking. Frodo smiled up at her kindly. "Thank you," he said as she took the tray. His voice was gentle, light and melodious. Just as she had imagined it would be. She curtsied low and bowed her head.
"It has been and honor and a privilege to care for you, my lord." She could not look into his face. "My people hold you in high esteem for what you and your kin have done. I consider myself fortunate to have been able to do this small service for you." Frodo looked at her, just a bit puzzled.
"Then I have more to thank you for than my breakfast," he said. "You have helped care for Sam and I?" Indil nodded.
"You were no trouble, my lord. Either of you. And it has filled my heart with joy to see you wake to see this dawn." Her voice was indeed trembling and Frodo gazed more intently at her. She drew a breath and steadied herself to look him in the eye.
Perhaps Frodo understood her a little, or perhaps it was just her look of pained longing that spoke to him, but he smiled compassionately and nodded. "Your work was well done," he said softly. "And I will thank you anyway." Indil slowly, sadly, returned his smile and curtsied once more. Now she truly was dismissed. When she left this place she would never again see him. She forced her unwilling legs to move and tried not to appear as if her heart were breaking as she carried the tray back to the little tent. There was nothing for it. She could curse her own foolhardiness, for it was foolish of her to feel love for him, but somehow she didn't want to. She wanted instead to carry the sweet bitterness in her heart forever, to keep alive the memory of the dear perian and to never forget the sight of his angelic face smiling up at her in the morning sunlight.
When Sam woke, he found that he was lying on some soft bed, but over him gently swayed wide beechen boughs, and through their young leaves sunlight glimmered, green and gold. All the air was full of a sweet mingled scent.
He remembered that smell: The fragrance of Ithilien. 'Bless me!' he mused. 'How long have I been asleep?' For the scent had borne him back to a the day when he had lit his little fire under the sunny bank; and for the moment all else between was out of waking memory.
From: The Return of the King; Book 6 - Chapter 4 - "The Field of Cormallen"
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