Thicker than Blood - Chapter 3 - In which Elrond tries to remove the shard of the Morgul blade... and fails.
Note for Chapter 3 - WARNING - This chapter contains rather graphic medical detail and is probably not for the squeamish though nothing is done for sensationalism and it is all as book canon as I could get it. I have a degree in the biological sciences and some familiarity with medical procedures and wanted to make the tale as realistic as possible.
I also will not be linking to the earlier chapters through HTML coding in the text any longer. Although I thought it would be a helpful tool to be able to read the story, it has really caused more trouble than it was worth. From now on, I will just include the text of the previous chapter's link... you may copy and paste it to your browser if you want to read it.
Chapter 1 - http://www.theonering.com/docs/12538.html
Chapter 2 - http://www.theonering.com/docs/12619.html
In which Elrond tries to remove the splinter of the Morgul blade... and fails...
The hobbits were stumbling with exhaustion as the lights of Rivendell came into sight. Their pace had been excruciating and even the knowledge that their journey had come to an end did little to cheer their sorrow filled and weary hearts. Sam came into the dell and gratefully handed the pony to the elf who reached for him. His concern was for his master, and regardless of the fondness he had for Bill, Frodo came first. They were carrying him in now, and the three hobbits, almost lost among the tall elves, strove to follow. Sam paid little heed to the magnificence of the huge house, and was not even able to be awed by the intrinsic elvishness of its architecture; he had eyes only for the small, still form being carried before him. He also did not see the little figure who slept by the entrance in the shadows, nor did he note when Gandalf slowed and came to stand quietly before it.
The elves wound their way along torch lit corridors until they came to a dark, carved door. They carried Frodo through it and carefully laid him on the bed in the center of the fire lit room. One of the elves, a dark haired, grey eyed lord, bent to undo Frodo's cloak, but Sam was instantly by the bedside pushing the elf's hands away.
"That's alright, beggin' your pardon, sir, but I'll do that." he insisted with a boldness that surprised even him. The elf merely smiled and nodded serenely.
"As you wish," he replied. "The lord Elrond will be here soon and will wish to examine him. Remove his clothes and place any trinkets he has into this box." The elf gestured to a small wooden case adorned with silver runes. Sam nodded and looked to Merry who stood at the foot of the bed. The other hobbit came to him quickly, and Pippin, not wanting to be caught way from the others of his kind in this great, imposing house, followed closely.
"Hold him up," Sam lifted Frodo's limp body and Merry laid him against his shoulder as Sam pulled the cloak from under his master. Then he carefully removed the heavy coat and bloodstained waistcoat, the ring still held to a button by its fine chain. He turned and pushed the bundle of clothes towards a still shocked and terrified Pippin. The young hobbit stared blankly for a moment and then, as if suddenly understanding, accepted the bundle and clutched it tightly to his breast. Even through the thin shirt, Sam could feel the chill in his master's arm had intensified alarmingly. It felt like it was made of ice only infinitely colder. He undid the braces where they hooked into Frodo's breeches as Merry undid the buttons of his shirt. Together they slipped both off his body and laid him gently back.
They could see where the creeping chill radiated from; the small cold mark on his shoulder was the center of it, and Frodo's left arm and much of the side of his torso was even paler and more grey in color than the rest of him. Through the undressing, Frodo had not even twitched and Sam placed his hand on the older hobbit's chest to insure that he was even still alive. The heartbeat felt slow and sluggish through Frodo's chilled skin, but it was there and Sam felt some measure of comfort in that.
An inarticulate choking cry from behind made all three hobbits turn to look. Strider stood by the door, his arm protectively supporting a very aged and alarmed looking Bilbo. At any other time, Sam would have been overjoyed to see his old master, but under the circumstances, it merely added to his pain.
"He's in the best hands he can be, right now, my friend," Strider was saying softly. "I am sorry you had to see him like this, but there is still hope. Frodo is strong and has not succumbed, as I feared. He is tough, like you. Elrond will help him."
Sam had never in his life seen Bilbo Baggins look so stricken. The old hobbit's eyes were fixed, staring at Frodo where he lay, unmoving on the terribly white bed. His lips quivered noiselessly and he took a few hesitant steps forward, holding his hand out to support himself against the mattress. Tears glittered at the corners of his eyes but he was struck too dumb to shed them. He drank in the sight of his injured heir and the vision sank deeply to his heart. As he stumbled past the other hobbits, Sam heard him speak in the faintest of whispers.
"My dear, sweet boy, what have I done to you?"
He placed a hand on Frodo's arm, the left one, and looked down at the limb, astonished at the cold he felt. That was the catalyst, for suddenly he began to sob and bent double over Frodo's body, reaching around the pale torso to take him in a heartbroken, tormented embrace. Strider was there in an instant, holding the hobbit's shaking shoulders, trying gently to pull him back. Though the grizzled ranger had been grieved over Frodo's injury, Sam had not once seen him as affected by his master's condition as he obviously was by the distress it caused Bilbo. The old hobbit could not be moved; he hugged Frodo's body tightly and wept against his cold breast. Strider's own eyes glistened with tears too as he tried to pull Bilbo gently away.
"Please, my friend, " The ranger's voice was thick. "Come away! You must be strong, for him, as he was strong for you. Let Elrond's people tend him. It is our only hope!"
Bilbo's grip had lifted Frodo slightly. His head lolled back and his pale lips parted. A weak and pitiful moan issued from them. It was the first sound or movement he had made since the ford and the agony echoed in it smote the hearts of his friends. Bilbo looked into his nephew's face, startled and weeping, and Strider took the opportunity to disengage the older hobbit's hold.
"Come away, Bilbo, You can do nothing but grieve him. He would not want to see you in such torment. Please, come away." Strider knelt and took Bilbo into his arms. "Trust in Elrond, he will not fail you." Bilbo sobs eased and he wiped his eyes, trying desperately to regain himself. He nodded.
"Yes, I know..." Those standing beside him could barely hear his small voice. He allowed himself to be led from the bedside by Strider.
"The other halflings should go with him, my foster-son," came a clear, firm elven voice behind them. Sam looked up startled, and saw a new elf had come into the room. Tall he was, dark haired and ageless, with grey eyes as clear as evening. If the other elves had seemed lordly to Sam, this one could have been more rightly called kingly, so powerful was his presence among them. Strider nodded, and put a hand out to gather Merry and Pippin to his side. Sam stepped back.
"I'll not leave my master, sir, no matter what you say. I'm standing by him, come what may. There's naught you can do about that!" He crowded close to his master's body and glared defiantly to the tall elf. Sam's stand brought a sad smile to the ageless face and he gave a barely perceptible nod.
"So be it, but the rest should go with Bilbo. He will have need of the comfort of many friends this night, as will they." The tall elf lord looked towards Strider and the ranger began shepherding the party towards the door.
"Half a moment!" Sam touched Pippin's arm and fumbled for the waistcoat. He handed the younger hobbit the shirt and braces he still held in his hands and unhooked the fine chain from its middle button, drawing the bright ring out of its pocket. Coldly it glittered in the firelight, but Sam could spare no admiration for the hated thing that had grieved his master so. He dropped it quickly into the waiting box and shut the lit tight. "Now, go on, Master Pip. You and Mr. Merry, take right good care of Mr. Bilbo. I'll see Mr. Frodo is cared for proper. Don't you worry." At that, Bilbo turned and nodded to Sam. He had not seen what the other hobbit had placed in the ornate box.
"There's a good lad, Sam. You stand by him. I'll be all right." He sniffed loudly and wiped his eyes again, but did not resist as Strider led him and the other two hobbits from the room.
Sam watched the door close behind them and felt suddenly very small beside his master. Well, Sam, he thought. You wanted to see elves, and now you're right in the middle of the most elvish group you're ever likely to see. He knew he would have forgone any such `pleasure' if it could have brought his master back to him safe and whole.
"I am Elrond," the kingly elf told him. "And I will see what we can do for your master." He approached Frodo and sat easily on the edge of the bed beside him. For a long moment, he sat gazing upon the wounded hobbit, searching his still face. He placed a long fingered hand above the wound and hesitantly, as if he knew the touch would cause them both pain, laid his palm upon it. Frodo twitched, weakly, and drew a laborious breath, his head falling limply to the side, but the change on Elrond's face was darker and more intense. The elf lord's brow creased with pain and he grimaced, but held his hand tightly against the wound. Slowly, a clear glow, so faint Sam half fancied it was his imagination, seemed to grow about the hand and Frodo's shoulder under it. It became stronger, but still remained faint near the surface of Frodo's pale skin, as if the coldness of the hobbit's wound sapped the power of it. Frodo jerked spasmodically, and whimpered but Elrond held fast, though it obviously caused him great pain to do so. Sam looked on, astounded, at the two of them apparently locked in a desperate struggle. At last the glow seemed to be gaining on the wound. A warmth spread from Elrond's fingers and gradually, Frodo's skin became more translucent, more lifelike though still as pale around it. The shift of hue spread slowly across his body, down his arm and across his face. Frodo sighed softly and sagged into the pillow. Elrond closed his eyes and sighed wearily also.
"I have given him some strength, but darkness remains in the wound. It is as we feared. Part of that sinister weapon must be buried deep within him. I will need to remove it before he can be healed."
Sam started and blinked. "What do you mean?" he asked, alarmed.
Elrond looked at him and Sam almost flinched under the intensity of the stare. "I will have to open the wound and find the bit of the blade that is lodged there. It is the only way to cure him. Will you still stay by him?"
Now it was Sam's turn to pale. He nodded and swallowed. "I said I would and I will. You'll not chase me away that easily. My master needs me."
Elrond's expression was unreadable. "Nothing in this will be easy to watch or to bear. I needed to prepare you for it. You must be very strong for both of your sakes." He turned and motioned to another elf. A tray was brought and placed on the stand beside the bed, in front of the wooden box that held the ring. On it were several knives, and sharp bits of shining metal, slender, luminous and glittering. They were unadorned and mysterious and their cold gleaming chilled Sam's heart. They were going to cut into his master. He swallowed again, forcing the bile that had risen in his throat back down with a supreme effort. He would stand by him whither or no.
"You will need to hold him," Elrond spoke to the dark haired elf that had first begun to undress Frodo. The other nodded and sat down on the opposite side of the bed. He gently turned Frodo's head so that he faced the ceiling again and placed a slim hand on his forehead. The other hand he placed over Frodo's heart. Elrond reached for a patch of fabric that lay beside the knives and bathed the area of the wound with it. Then, placing the fabric patch back, he took up a thin knife and examined it in the firelight. It was very sharp, Sam could see, for no hint of reflection came from its razor edge. Elrond turned and with barely a pause for Sam to draw his breath, pressed the blade firmly into Frodo's pale shoulder.
The effect on Frodo was instantaneous. Elrond must have given the hobbit back some of his strength for suddenly he screamed in agony and jerked. "Hold him!" Elrond cried as the tiny body quivered and twitched. Sam was beside himself in terror.
"He can feel that!" The other hobbit screamed. "Mercy, my lord! Can't you do something for the pain?!?!"
Elrond grimaced. "Be still!" he hissed, though whether the command was directed to him or to Frodo, Sam could not guess. "Only his body can feel it. His mind has flown. He will have no memory of this." Elrond continued to cut a deep line through the tiny scar. Dark, thick blood welled up from the gash and ran sluggishly down Frodo's arm. It was not the color or consistency of normal blood but was more like a vile liquor that swelled and heaved from some dark abyss. Even Elrond seemed loath to touch it. Another elf behind them handed the healer a piece of cloth and he began wiping it away as he continued to cut. Deeper and deeper he scored the line, pushing further into the tissues of Frodo's shoulder. More blood surged into the wound and Elrond needed another cloth and another. It was far more blood than the wound had even generated when newly got. Sam felt sick and terribly frightened.
Frodo was breathing in rapid, trembling gasps. His body twitched weakly and his eyes, half opened, were rolling back into his head till only the whites showed. His mouth gaped and his lips quivered though the only sounds he could make were shaking, painfully indrawn breaths. The elf who held his head smoothed back his curls and stroked his forehead, now shiny with cold sweat. Frodo was in agony and beyond; none who watched could doubt that. Elrond, cut deeper, hoping by speed to reduce the amount of torment the hobbit was suffering.
When the cut was as deep as the length of the blade, Elrond quickly put it down and pushed his slim fingered hand into the wound. This act brought another scream from Frodo, though it was weaker than the first and thereby even more pitiful. New blood spilled from the wound and pooled darkly under Frodo's armpit as Elrond pushed mercilessly into it. The elf's features were set with grim determination as he quickly searched the torn flesh. Frodo's gasping cries became fainter and a deep rattle began in his chest. The second elf at his side looked down, alarmed at the sound, and clutched at the hobbit's chest with the hand that lay over his heart. He closed his eyes and began murmuring a song under his breath. Elrond continued to probe, but it was growing obvious that whatever he sought could not be found. The second elf opened his eyes and ended his song.
"My lord," he said with a calmness that astounded Sam. "He cannot bear it. We are losing him."
Sam felt giddy. He had watched this torture with astonished revulsion but he could stand it no longer. It was too much. He cried out and had to grasp the table to keep from falling. "Please, STOP!" he screamed. "You are killing him!"
Elrond wrenched his hand free of the accursed wound and quickly laid both his, the one still covered with Frodo's blood, over the hand of the other elf on the hobbit's chest. Together the two healers closed their eyes and began their soft song again, their lilting voices low and commanding. The glow returned, now more palpably real than before, over Frodo's heart. Tense silence filled the room as even the hobbit's rattling breaths had ceased. Sam still clutched the table's edge afraid to move. Had they lost him? Sam could see no sign that his master was breathing, and the ashen hue was again on his face and limbs. Dark blood pooled on the sheets and was smeared across Frodo's body contrasting starkly with his pallor, though it no longer pulsed from the wound. As the long moments stretched on, Sam began to shake. They had failed, surely. Why else would the silence linger on? New tears filled Sam's eyes. After all that torment, to lose his master in such agony! It was more than his heart could bear and he choked on his sobs.
The glow over Frodo's chest blossomed and became a light in its own right, casting shadows of bright gold on the hobbit's still face. Warmth came from that light, and power, and as the song lifted and became stronger, so did the light. Sam dashed the tears from his eyes so that his vision could remain clear. Whatever had happened, the elves had not given up hope, and Sam resolved not to either, not yet at least. The song stretched on, now rising and now falling till it's rhythm resembled the strong, firm beating of a heart. At long last, Sam saw his master move. Frodo opened his mouth wider and drew in an aching breath as of one who had just emerged from deep water. Then he breathed out with a sigh and sank even deeper into the pillows, but his breath, once returned, continued slowly and evenly. They had brought him back. Sam found himself still trembling but the despair that had gripped him was easing. His master was breathing again, and now, so could he.
The song Elrond and the second elf had sung faded and the light of their hands sank to glow brightly, deep within Frodo's chest. There it lingered for a while, growing fainter, but spreading its warmth through his body. His color brightened though he was still paler than he should have been, but the dark circles under his eyes looked even deeper than before. When the last note was but a whisper, Elrond motioned to another of the waiting elves and a basin of steaming water was brought to him. He dipped his hands into it and rinsed Frodo's dark blood from them. Next, he dipped a cloth into the basin and began cleaning the reopened wound, wiping the spilled blood from the small arm and chest. Bandages were brought to him then and he bound Frodo's shoulder with soft pads of cloth.
"I will not close this wound yet." he said, glancing sidelong at Sam as he worked. "Not until I am certain nothing remains within. Though I found it not this time, that for which I seek may have burrowed deeper, searching out your master's heart. I cannot risk another examination until he has grown stronger. We were hard pressed to retrieve him just now; I dare not stress him again too soon; and," he smiled ruefully. "We will need to recover the strength we have given him." The elf lord tied a small knot in the bandages and stood carefully. It was apparent then that the trial had not left Elrond unmarked, for he needed to steady himself against the bed for a moment. "My people will bathe him and dress him, if you wish, or if you would rather, you may care for him yourself. We will provide you with all that you need."
Sam was startled out of his shocked silence as he realized some response was expected. He cleared his throat. "I'll care for him, my lord, though I'd not turn down some help. I'm a mite shaken up by all this myself, if you take my meaning, sir." Elrond's smile was warm and approving. He gestured to another of his aides and basins and sponges were brought forth. Clean linens and a tunic of fine silk were placed on the bed stand and many warm, fluffy towels laid beside them. Sam rolled up his sleeves and prepared to work. Now that the excitement was over, and the elf lord had left Sam found he was shaking almost uncontrollably. And they'll want to do that to him again?! He thought. I don't think I could bear it a second time. And what if they can't bring him back again? He shivered. No, I'll not think of it. Mr. Frodo needs me now and that's where my mind ought to be. He stepped up to the bed and picked up a flannel from the pile of linens.
They washed Frodo as best they could. A tub would have served better, but Sam agreed that the open wound could not be immersed in water. One of the elves placed a basin under Frodo's head and gently washed his hair while Sam attended to the rest of him. Another elf helped dry Frodo and lifted him, bundled warmly in the towels, while several others who had remained changed the linens. When Frodo was finally clean, warm, dry and dressed, settled on clean sheets and under a warm quilt, Sam sank wearily into a chair.
"Worst night of my life!" he sighed. "If I live a hundred years, I'll never see another I'll like to forget more!" He yawned and an elf, smiling knowingly, laid a blanket across his lap. Sam closed his eyes and was asleep before the door closed on the last of them departing.
TBC in Chapter 4 - Comfort and Conflict - In which Bilbo, tormented with grief, sits with his wounded heir and Sam learns the One Ring may still hold his old master in its sway.